Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 89:1-18; 147:1-11, 2 Samuel 14:21-33, Acts 21:15-26, Mark 10:17-31
Since Jesus first challenged the Pharisees and their application of the law, his followers have struggled with our relationship to custom and tradition. Some, like Paul, look beyond tradition to a wider ministry. Others like the church in Jerusalem have a harder time letting go. Today Christians don’t observe many Jewish traditions or customs, but we have added many of our own which can make us seem as rigid as Pharisees. How do we know when to hold on, and when to let go?
Paul’s efforts to gather Gentiles under the umbrella of Christ’s grace caused many to doubt his commitment to his Jewish identity. Like many efforts at inclusiveness, Paul’s acceptance of “the other” was interpreted by his existing community as a rejection. To assuage their concerns, Paul went through the Jewish rituals of purification, but he understood his salvation was in Christ, not ritual. Modern churches experience something similar when leaders reach out to new people with different customs. From new musical styles to liturgical revision to more inclusive language, some people will resist change – and possibly grace.
But change simply for its own sake isn’t good either. When Jesus, using wine as a metaphor, declares “The old is good,” (Luke 5:39) he is talking about the very old – the love and purpose of God that predate even the law. We tend to forget customs and traditions were once new, and after a time we may focus more on a tradition than its purpose. In some churches, a misstep during the offertory, a bungling of the Words of Institution, or an improperly stored card table can cause great consternation. When this happens, it’s time to examine whether our traditions serve the very old, or if we – like the Pharisees – have lost sight of their true purpose. In the latter case we do not necessarily have to change our traditions, but we do need to renew our relationship to them.
As faithful followers of Christ, we should respect what he respected, and challenge what he challenged. To do this well, we must know why we do what we do.
Comfort: Traditions can bring us much comfort and sense of order.
Challenge: Question traditions that don’t positively inform your faith life.
Prayer: I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 89:1)
Discussion: Families and groups of friends also form traditions. What are some of these traditions you value most, and why?
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