I have a confession to make. I love Fiddler on the Roof. I love the characters, I love the look into the Jewish culture, and for the most part, I love the music. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is where Tevye talks, or rather sings, about the importance of tradition to the Jewish people.
Tradition, like anything else, can be good or bad. It can help us understand God and who he wants us to be, or it can separate us from God and keep us from understanding grace. As you read through the Gospels you see Jesus both embrace and renounce the traditions of his day.
In Mark 7, the Pharisees and Torah Teachers question Jesus about why his disciples don’t practice the tradition of ritual hand washing as taught by the Oral Torah.
Jesus explains his stance on the Oral Torah, or the Traditions of the Elders. He says, “you depart from God’s command and hold on to human tradition.” He presses them that in some cases their tradition, their teaching, goes against the teaching of Moses to honor your father and mother. He says that they “nullify the Word of God” in this case and they do others things like this as well.
Jesus then explains to the people this tradition of ritual hand washing is not necessary. “There is nothing outside a person which, by going into him, can make him unclean. Rather, it is the things that come out of a person which make a person unclean”, he says.
Jesus later explains to his disciples that the things going into a person go into the stomach not the heart, and they pass through the body. (I’m sure the disciples were thinking – thanks Jesus, we didn’t know that.) But the things that come out of his heart, those things from within, are what make him unclean. Evil thoughts, improper behavior, these all come from within.
Often times we read this and similar passages and believe Jesus must have rejected all of the traditions of the people. He did not. In fact we find him observing many of them. But when we do find him in conflict with the traditions, it is in the cases where those traditions have been elevated as equal to or above scripture.
What are some of the traditions or teachings that your church heritage celebrates? Have you experienced times where it seemed those traditions were held as equal to or above Scripture?