Mark 7: 1-23 EP HT 10th July 2016 Gen 32:9-30, Ps 77
Part of what makes the Anglican Church the via middle way is the conviction that its beliefs and practices must derive from a thorough integration of Scripture, reason, and tradition. Trying to achieve a perfect balance of these this is nigh on impossible, however, our church believes that we are in danger of teaching and living heresy if one of the categories dominates to the extent that the others are excluded. So, next time anyone asks what is exactly is an Anglican then just quote Scripture, reason, and tradition. Then send them to read up on Richard Hooker, one of the most influential priests of the Church of England in the 16th Century!
However, I thought it was interesting that Scripture was listed first as scripture is the yard stick by which our reasoning’s and our traditions are measured. God’s word, His divine revelation should be taught and explored over and above human customs.
But we do like our customs, though, don’t we?! We like doing things we are accustomed to. Things that give us a sense of comfort and peace knowing that they won’t change. We find security in knowing exactly what will happen and how whatever it is will end. Many people like their church tradition because things never change. They like their church to be a place that feels secure to them, especially when the rest of their world seems constantly changing. This may not necessarily be a bad thing when we view our community to be a place of rest and refreshment.
But what if this need for stability is placed above God’s divine revelation? What if Christ’s teachings and modelling of a transformed life in God is ignored for sake of comfort? Does security in tradition then become poisonous to our faith and discipleship? There is something insidious about complacency that we can all fall unwittingly into when the message of God is watered down for the sake our own need for permanence.
The need to keep the status quo was displayed by the Pharisees and legal experts, the scribes. They taught as fundamental law human customs rather than divine revelation. Oh it is likely their customs began from the law as taught by Moses but over the years their doctrines and ethics on how to be a good Jew had become also about political agendas. This was also a way of showing the Jews were separate from the Romans and other influxes of gentiles with their pagan ways by living differently. The purity law which included hand washing was one such way of showing their difference. So the Jewish way of life was dominated by these particular laws which dictated everything they did.
Jesus, by speaking of the more serious law about marriage, points out that they are using the laws to their own advantage because of their alarm about the minor incident of ignoring the ceremonial hand washing law.
Jesus shows them they have actually negated the real purpose and spirit of the law itself. Thus they can go through the ritual of word and deed, dependent on the rules given in ‘the tradition’, without being committed in their hearts to the spiritual intentions of the law. The Pharisees have in fact set aside God’s law in favour of human teaching based on it.
And so they have become hard hearted and failed to be in tune with God’s heart and the true meaning of God’s planned intention for all through the arrival of Jesus. They had not understood what God’s Kingdom meant which is forgiveness and love for all who repent, that is, change their ways and believe in God.
Notice the key word there. Repent meaning to change. Christ calls for change, for transformation whether we like it or not. I don’t think God minds our traditions as long as they do not prevent His work of transformation within us. This is why He has given us the gift of spiritual discernment, the ability to reason, to check whether our traditions are true to the Scripture it claims to interpret.
Jesus’ further teaching about inner purity further underlines his point about the spiritual intentions of the law. He speaks about how our spiritual integrity, our intentions behind our thoughts and actions are more important in determining our behaviour. Our hearts bear the seed of our deeds and vices, far and above external rituals and traditions. If we are not careful, tradition that ignores the source of evil in human life, like the Pharisees did, is truly to be imprisoned. So we do well to hold lightly to our traditions otherwise, like the teachers of the law, we may not accept the spiritual and physical liberation being made available to all people. The disciples and Jesus had shown signs of the Kingdom of God through the sick being cured, evil spirits cast out and sins forgiven, but the critics of Jesus’ followers fastened on failure to wash hands before eating. The signs of the kingdom were neglected in the interests of ritual ablutions.
Scripture, reason, and tradition do indeed form the backbone of our church. But spiritual discernment to use reason and tradition in the light of scripture is the gift we need to be most thankful for in order to soften our hearts and intentionally accept transformation at our deepest, inner most level. Then we are in tune with God’s heart, His intention and plan for all that repent and believe to be part of His Kingdom. What will you settle for? A church that is comfortable or a church that embraces change and in doing so, ignites a fire of faith that our community cannot ignore the light of Christ shining in their midst?!