Friday, January 25, 2013

What's Wrong With Traditions?

The Pharisees said to Jesus, "'Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?...' Jesus replied, 'And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?... You nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.'" Matthew 15:2,3,6

Years ago I heard this story (paraphrase). A mother was about to bake pork roast for the holiday season. After seasoning the roast, she cut off about an inch off the long end on each side. Her young daughter asked her, "Mom, why do you cut off the ends of the roast?" Her mom answered, "That's a good question. I learned that from my mom and she learned it from her mom but I'm not sure why it's done." So the mother of the little girl asked her mother and her mother didn't know either. It was just tradition. Thankfully, the great grandmother was still alive. When the great grandmother was asked why she'd always cut off the ends of the pork roast she said, "Because the pan I cooked it in was too small. I had to cut the ends off to make the roast fit." What was wrong with that tradition?

Some traditions are great and meaningful, while others are outdated or even deliberately invented with evil or devious intent. In this passage of scripture Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and teachers of the law because they created a  tradition to circumvent God's commandment. Read it for yourself when you get a chance (Matthew 15:1-20). Jesus called them hypocrites! He repeated the words of Isaiah's prophesy, "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men'" (verses 8-9).

I would like to think that the majority of traditions have their roots in good intentions, but it would be naive of me to believe that there aren't many traditions that were also deliberately developed with the intention to misguide and even repress others. The apostle Paul instructed the Colossians to, "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy; which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ." (Colossians 2:8)

We have to be alert, prayerful and discerning of practices in which we participate; especially in the church and among believers. Satan is cunning. He often uses man's good traditions and practices to blind men and rob them of God's best. Scripture is replete with such examples and Jesus exposed the malady of them at every turn.

For example Jesus said to one man, "'Follow me.' But the man replied, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father.'" (Luke 9:59) Well that was a reasonable and good practice. What was wrong with that? Only that it trumped God's direction at that time. God in the flesh was telling the man to follow Him now, not in a few weeks or months, as the traditional process for a Jewish burial and time of mourning required. (The Jewish mourning for a parent lasted up to twelve months.)

 In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus lists a series of traditions and laws and gives a higher, unearthly (heavenly) outlook. Jesus said, "You have heard it said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment." Again he said, "It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress... Again, you have heard that it was said to people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all;...' You have heard it said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

What about the good practice and tradition of hospitality, can anything be wrong with that? In Luke chapter 10, Jesus visits the home of Martha and Mary. In this passage Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to what he had to say. On the other hand, Martha was running around making preparations for her guest. Frustrated with Mary's apparent  slackness, Martha approaches Jesus and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" To which Jesus replied, "Martha, Martha,... you are worried and upset about many things. But only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better..." (Luke 10:38-42)

What is wrong with traditions? Nothing as long as they do no supersede God's plan, God's word, or God's way.

As you continue on your journey through 2013, I encourage you not to get so busy and caught up in the traffic and traditions of life that you fail to take time to listen for God's instructions that may be contrary to life's normal routines. Remember Isaiah 55 which says, "God's ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts." Don't let your traditions, trump God's direction.