Jesus raging. Or, why tradition sucks (the love out of us)

Mark 7

Tradition. It binds the Pharisees’ minds and makes Jesus rage (at least a little, I think).

The disciples are sitting by themselves, eating, and the Pharisees come up to Jesus and ask why the disciples eat without ritually purifying their hands. The text goes on to explain that the pharisees (and all jews, in fact) don’t eat without ritually washing their hands. They were just looking for another way to “expose” Jesus as a fraud or a heretic. I don’t think they expected what happened.

It’s hard to tell with a book, and certainly we think of Jesus as being gentle, and kind, and loving. But in this situation, I think he’s verbally lashing the Pharisees. They still don’t get it, and he’s getting tired of their lack of faith, love, and understanding.

He starts by going back to Isaiah, quoting “this people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me.” He continues with something like this: ‘Hey guys! You’re putting way too much stock in what the elders have told you to do. Just because people have been washing their hands before they eat for years, doesn’t mean it is actually important! You guys need to re-read the scripture and listen to me, and try to understand what God is really asking of you!’

In case that wasn’t clear enough, he brings up what is possibly the most embarrassing and damning example. The pharisees have been telling people that they give money to the synagogue (“God”), they don’t have to use more of their own money to take care of their aging parents. That is, giving money to the church absolves them of any responsibility to take care of their parents. This has become standard practice due to tradition.

If Jesus is unhappy with the Pharisees’ question about the food and the hand washing, he’s furious with their lack of care for elderly parents. It’s clear from his attitude that he would rather the people take care of their parents, even if it meant giving less money to the church. Remember, Jesus is all about the love.

It seems to me that Jesus is raging a little bit here. We would probably term it “Righteous Anger”.

It makes me think about how I live. What “religious” traditions am I holding to that actually hinder my ability to love people? What “other” traditions am I holding to that prevent me from moving forward and loving people? What traditions are actually getting in my way? What things have I taken for truth that are really just tradition, passed down…just because?

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