Here’s what stood out for me in my lectio divina reading of Mark, chapter 7:
“You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” Mark 7:8
I didn’t really want to address this verse, and I even tried reading the chapter over a few more times, hoping something else would replace it. No dice. This is the one God wants me to hear.
At this point Jesus is telling the Pharisees what hypocrites they are. They use their traditional religious practices to justify ignoring God’s Word and His real intention about how their daily lives should be lived. For example, they avoid helping their parents by telling them they have no excess to give them — it’s promised to God.
This brings up several thoughts in my mind. Lutherans (and I’m sure many others) are often accused of immediately countering a new idea with the phrase, “we never did it that way before.” I must admit, I like my traditions. I love the liturgy; I love certain hymns that I associate with particular seasons of the church year; I love taking prayer requests during the service, so that we hear and can share in our common griefs and joys. There are good reasons for doing these things. The liturgy teaches us words directly from Scripture; the hymns reinforce the mood of the season we’re experiencing; group prayer binds us together. However, I also need to remember to keep the main thing the main thing. All of these traditions, good and helpful though they may be, are adiaphora, a Greek word meaning indifferent or unimportant. I need to focus more on why we’re doing something than how we’re doing it. As humans, all of us are likely to start thinking that our particular and comfortable way of doing things is the “right” way. Doing something new can be helpful, as long as the something new is taking us in the right direction — loving and obeying God.
There’s another way to think about this verse, however–the way we let society and the ways of the world influence us. We twist the words of the Bible, or ignore them, because they no longer suit our worldly understanding. Pronouns and certain ways of referring to God become offensive and politically incorrect. Things that are commonly accepted as part of life are no longer seen as sin. We pick and choose the parts of Scripture that fit into our culture, and reject the parts that don’t. This also seems to me to be putting our own traditions above God’s commands.
I’ve pondered about all this long enough. It comes down to this: in making a decision, go to God and His Word. What does it say? What does it mean? What’s really important? Would God be pleased with my choice?
For more on the book of Mark see: