Tradition & Theology

Matthew 15:1-20

1Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law now arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They asked him, 2“Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.”

3Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? 4For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ Exod 20:12; Deut 5:16. and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ Exod 21:17 (Greek version); Lev 20:9 (Greek version). 5But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ 6In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents. Greek their father; other manuscripts read their father or their mother. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition. 7You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

8‘These people honor me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me.

9Their worship is a farce,

for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’ Isa 29:13 (Greek version).”

10Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “Listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 11It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”

12Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?”

13Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, 14so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.”

15Then Peter said to Jesus, “Explain to us the parable that says people aren’t defiled by what they eat.”

16“Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. 17“Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.18But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. 19For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. 20These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.”

 

Intro

Traditions are everywhere. Traditions is simply set of practices pass down to us. For the most part we practice those traditions. Traditions serve many functions, one of them is building community.

Consider one of the most American tradition. Watching the super bowl together as a family.

It is a tradition. Because even if you don’t like football. Even if you don’t have the slightest clue why they call a game where it is all passing and running and occasionally kicking football, you still watch it.

And what must you eat while watching the game?

It’s tradition. It marks you as a sane American.

Tradition is everywhere. Tradition is not in essence bad. But every tradition can potentially lead you to disobey God. That is the danger of tradition. That is the lesson of today’s story.

Read Scripture

 

Definition of Tradition – Set of behavior and rituals with an assumed worldview

 

My first response to Peter is like Jesus. Wow Peter, how can you not get it. Jesus is teaching something real simple, something we all get immediatelybut Peter doesn’t. And we can feel good about ourselves and say we are not easily duped by tradition and then of course find ourselves actually to be exactly like Pharisees because we have failed to understand the power of tradition and it’s danger.

Today I think if Jesus walked with us for a week or two and then asked him how he feels about what we are doing to uphold his commandments, and asked him to tell us honestly, I think Jesus would offend us. I think Jesus would question some of the traditions we practice and we would probably look at him and say, “what, no.”

So let’s consider the power of tradition, it’s necessity, and why it can be dangerous.

First, we all live in a stream of tradition

This is a simple obvious fact that all of us are born into a tradition.

We are born into these traditions. We don’t pick and choose. We don’t choose what is most rational or most fun. We are simply born into it. And like a stream it is powerful. It is very difficult to not do it. Even if there is no real rule or law.

Again. Consider superbowl. If you don’t go to it, you are a loner. What if I just don’t think football is that important. Now some of you are going to think I’m a total loser or some effeminate person.

Or what about we don’t do thanksgiving. If I said I am not going to invite my families. My family is going to disown me. Why? There is no rule. But there is the force of tradition. Tradition is very strong.

Tradition is useful because it helps create community.

Tradition is a way to strengthen ties. It is how we emphasize and reconnect through what we share in common. It gathers us around a common practice. Thanksgiving tradition purpose is to gather all Americans in the act of thanksgiving. It is a call for American’s to recognize that their bountifulness is due to God. And it does exactly that. Families gather.

Each college have traditions. It helps those students in the college to feel proud of their school, and in practicing that tradition one becomes not just a student body but a member of that college. And that tradition doesn’t just connect you to the students you are attending with, but with everyone else who went before. Tradition because it is something not new but old is the reason why it connects you through the generations.

Tradition connects you to a community spatially but also temporally. It connects you through time.

So the 4th of July connects you to those who fought for the independence of this country. You are not just remembering the sacrifice of the freedom fighters, you are joining them.

This is why Peter is very worried about what Jesus did. He says to Jesus, did you know you upset the Pharisees. Basically you’ve been cut off from their community, and by implication any other villages who support Pharisees.

Tradition is a way of knowing

Now I said tradition is a set of habits and rituals. Though tradition’s main act are habits and rituals it’s aim is not just behavior. It’s aim is to shape your thinking your worldview. It aims to become your lens. All tradition aims to become the way of knowing. The behavior imposes certain world view.

Superbowl. It is American to love football, inches and yards, not centimeters and millimeters like wimpy Europeans with their short wearing soccer craze.

So we begin to return to our story. The Pharisees in enforcing the tradition is also trying to have people see people through defiled and undefiled, and those who have the tradition of washing, Jews, themselves, as undefiled.

But it is not just enforcing an artificial way of knowing. The behavior also emerges from a certain form of knowing, namely seeing cleaning of hands as a cleaning of the soul.

For us, we can’t see how one can connect defilement and hand. But that is only because we

Now it’s difficult for us to see this tradition, this connection. You and I agree with this behavior but for different reasons. We have come to accept the tradition of science. That we have germs in our hands.

We do not accept the underlying worldview. But their worldview was that defilement was a physical act. You touch holy things you become holy. You touch unholy things you become unholy.

There is a remnant of this. When people believed if you touch Aids person, then you will get Aids. Now there was scientific confusion about it. But for most people, they did not believe that you can only get it when blood is shared, because the effect of Aids was so physical, that they believed if you touch an Aids person, even if there is no blood shared, that somehow you will get it.

And we have it in our children’s game. The game of coodies.

It was a way of seeing things.

This is why Peter just doesn’t get it when Jesus says what you touch doesn’t make you unclean. Clean and unclean was not just a practice but a way of knowing.

So tradition is everywhere and these are its’s powers, specifically, it’s power to effect how you see the world and how you treat people. That is why tradition is so dangerous, why tradition can begin to contradict God. Tradition can get in the way of God’s Kingdom.

Danger of tradition is not just in religion

 

Tradition is a way of knowing. If you question everything then you will have no time to consider the answers to question that really matter.

Science needs this. When you and I learn science, we don’t start from scratch, is the world matter and spirit? We say matter. That is the focus of science. We are asking when we see something happen, what spirit caused it but what other matter caused it. We say atom. None of us say, prove it. We accept it.

But the thing is, even those traditions can get things wrong.

Did you know that this past week there was a new discovery that is going to overturn everything we know about dinosaur? Well that was the headline. It is a huge change, but it isn’t going to change the movies we see. It is about classification.

This is the classic classification.

This is the new classification. See the difference. Only dinosaur lovers sees how significant this.

But do you know where this change came from?

It wasn’t a new species? It was old data looked at differently.

The reason this was divided this way was because a scientist * looked at the hip bones and said well look these dinosaurs have their hip bones wider and these have it here. Well, one can see why they liked this theory, because it was so easy to spot. And so they went with it. The theory became tradition.

And tradition then was accepted. So when new species were discovered, they were first classified by the hip bones. But some questioned it because there were more differences between these two then these two.

One of the way we can dismiss this story is to worry about religious traditions and not realize that it is other traditions that can blind us to God and God’s work.

Any “Isms” that set’s one group against another is grounded on tradition. Assumption of differences enforced by practices. All isms is an identity created by exclusion. And the stronger its exclusion, the stronger it’s identity. It’s identity is solely based on difference. And the only way to keep that difference is by tradition, by people not questioning, not reasoning through the tradition, but simply obeying those traditions as if they were natural, as if they were ultimate, as if they were ordained by God himself.

Apartheid law required black South African men over the age of sixteen carry a pass card. Anyone found without a card by the police could be arrested. On March 21, 1960, black South African men had planned to leave their pass cards at home, go to the police station, and ask to be arrested in an act of civil disobedience. When the men began their walk to the police station, officers opened fire, killing sixty-nine and injuring hundreds in what has been remembered as the Sharpeville Massacre. Now you hear and you wonder at how any human being can pick up a gun and shoot another person simply because he didn’t carry a card? How could any person think it was so important for a person of another color to carry a card, and that if he didn’t, not only did he break a man-made law that was arbitrary but a god-made law that was natural? How can a person come to such thinking? How can a society come to such thinking? Tradition codified. Law creating tradition. This is the danger of tradition. Racism, sexism, nationalism, it’s all tradition.

Jesus and Syrian woman

Matthew 15:21-28

21Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22A Gentile Greek Canaanite. woman who lived there came to him, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely.”

23But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. “Tell her to go away,” they said. “She is bothering us with all her begging.”

24Then Jesus said to the woman, “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.”

25But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me!”

26Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”

27She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.”

28“Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed.

 

This prejudicing of tradition is so pervasive that even Jesus himself has to be shaken out of it. This is why Matthew tells us what happens next, because Matthew sees Jesus himself not just teaching against the danger of tradition when it forgets the real danger of the heart.

And he hears the Syrian woman but he walks on as if she did not exist. It is one of the rare moments we see Jesus being so careless, even so clueless.

Don’t let him off the hook. Don’t say he was God, he knew, so he was just testing. If he was, Matthew might have given us that insight. Because actually gospel writers do give us such insight, “Jesus was testing him,” in another story. But Matthew is telling it as he saw it and what he saw was jesus ignoring this woman,

And don’t let yourself off the hook by saying, well I am not like Jesus if I was there, and pat yourself in the back. Because think about how many people you ignore through the day because your tradition, your assumed way of practicing, tells you that you can ignore such person. You can ignore him Seik, you can ignore him Muslim, you can ignore him, homeless, you can ignore him atheist, you can ignore him, non-presybterian, you can ignore him, not your family.

Jesus’s reason for ignoring is tradition, a tradition that was passed down to him that the messiah had come for the lose sheep of Israel. Now is this true? A part of it was true. He had come for his people. But there was another tradition that says he will be a light to the Gentiles. But what Jesus remembers then is that he had come for the lost sheep.

Why was he clinging onto that?

Maybe he was tired. I won’t guess at his heart, but I know when I am tired, I don’t want to think things through. When I am tired, I want simple traditions to help me choose. He could not possible help everyone is need. So he decideds to go with atradition that makes things simple.

And he uses the reasoning of the tradition.

And the wisdom of the woman is that she challenges the tradition within the tradition. She blows away his reasoning by using his very reasoning. This is a lesson of pursusation,you have to start with the other’s assumption before you can challenge it. But for today what we need to see is that Jesus himself is moved. He was open. And when he recognizes the wrong in his tradition, he doesn’t fire back. He doesn’t get defensive. This is the major difference.

He accepts this new data, this new challenge,

So how do we overcome traditions that can blind us to God?

You have to read God’s word yourself. This was hard for people at that time too. But we must read it for ourselves. Not podcasters. Not even preachers like me. Read it for yourself. Now of course, your reading will always have layers of traditions. But the more you read the more you will be able to begin to differentiate traditions and God’s word.

Jesus had a vantage that the people did not, he kept reading scripture, over and over again.  You read not to get a conclusion, but the ability to question.

And the second thing is be open to experience. Your learning from God is both from scripture and experience. Experience doesn’t contradict scripture. God of the universe is the God of scripture. Your human interaction. Listen to them. It is your tradition that you are guarding.

One who is open to God is not afraid of new interactions and friendship.

And the person who shows this more powerfully is Paul.

Paul was blinded by his tradition. He stoned Stephen.

When he was shown he was blind. He was open. He wasn’t throwing away his tradition, but he began questioning it.

Do you remember when he went to Philipi?

There was Lydia who said come into her house. What a scandal. She is a Gentile. She is a woman. She is a woman leader. He didn’t want to go. She kept insisting. And what he couldn’t deny if her hunger for the Word. And Paul stayed at her house.

Paul appoints women leaders there, though he grew up in a tradition where the only way you can have a worship service is if you have 12 men. How do you do that? You open to experience you read scripture. Your experience opens you to scripture, “I will pour out my spirit to men and women.”

Paul is in the city of Laodicia. People are talking about this mature young men, but he happens to be half-Greek and half-Jew. A mutt. He is gifted. He really loves God, but his father has abandoned him, and no rabbit is wants to take him. There is just too much garbage.

He goes to Timothy. Listens to his mother and his mother’s mother, and to him.

He says to Timothy, “Timothy I will be your rabbi.” And the young men’s eyes light up.

And one of this most tenderest letter is his last letter to Timothy.

He writes, “my dearest son.”

And I think Timothy eyes was dry as he read that letter.

Because this man said, “forget tradition, I choose God, I choose love, I choose you.”

 

 

Story of someone recognizing that he is wrong

 

 

 

Readings

 

Matthew 15:1-20

1Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law now arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They asked him, 2“Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.”

3Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? 4For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ Exod 20:12; Deut 5:16. and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ Exod 21:17 (Greek version); Lev 20:9 (Greek version). 5But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ 6In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents. Greek their father; other manuscripts read their father or their mother. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition. 7You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

8‘These people honor me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me.

9Their worship is a farce,

for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’ Isa 29:13 (Greek version).”

10Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “Listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 11It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”

12Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?”

13Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, 14so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.”

15Then Peter said to Jesus, “Explain to us the parable that says people aren’t defiled by what they eat.”

16“Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. 17“Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.18But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. 19For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. 20These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matthew 15:21-28

21Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22A Gentile Greek Canaanite. woman who lived there came to him, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely.”

23But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. “Tell her to go away,” they said. “She is bothering us with all her begging.”

24Then Jesus said to the woman, “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.”

25But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me!”

26Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”

27She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.”

28“Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed.