Individuals, families, organizations, cultures all have traditions. Traditions are formed through repeated practice and embed themselves into the minds, wills and emotions of those who follow them. It is hard to change traditions. Breaking traditions may be the ‘unpardonable sin’ for some and the cause of significant strife.
Each religion has its traditions. Viewed from the outside these practices may seem strange, but for the convinced ‘believer,’ traditions provide a comfortable security about their faith. How willing are we to admit our ‘traditions?’ E.g. When I hold them, they are convictions, when you hold them, they are traditions.
In Mark 7, the gospel writer portrays the ceremonial hand washing tradition of the elders. During my visit to Israel many years ago, our guide demonstrated the careful process followed, not for the sake of cleanliness but for the sake of tradition.
“The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus….” Judah was home base, but they had come on a mission to the northern part of the nation. Probably on a religious assignment, they were here to investigate the latest Rabbi as to his doctrines and practices.
Here was God in human form, Jesus the Messiah, but would they recognize Him? How would He line up with Moses or the teaching of the prophets? What type of followers did He have? How ‘traditional’ was His approach?
They soon caught a ‘discrepancy,’ a minor variance in terms of the practice of the elders, but in their eyes, a minor variance was MAJOR! The disciples were eating food without going through the ritual of ceremonial washing. How could Jesus allow this?
Mark, writing in a non-Jewish context offers a three sentence explanation. ‘Unwashed hands?’ the typical readers would ask. ‘What’s the big deal about that?’ This must be much more than an issue of hygiene.
The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
The concern was ceremonial cleanliness. Contact with ‘outsiders,’ interaction with ‘unclean’ strangers was risky. In order to preserve the purity of their ways, they ‘washed off’ the influence of those who were not serious covenant keepers. They had all kinds of traditions, a list of religious practices that must be observed with fastidiousness.
In terms of application,
1) What traditions do we follow?
2) What is the basis for these practices?
3) Are these traditions rooted in our culture or our Christianity?
4) Are we prepared to give up our ‘traditions’ when Scriptural truth challenges them?