Are your traditions standing in the way of Jesus?
Matt. 15:1 ¶ Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said,
Matt. 15:2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.”
Matt. 15:3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?
The disciples had broken a traditional rule. They had eaten before washing their hands. The Pharisees and the scribes were quick to point this out to Jesus. Why did they not follow the traditions of the elders? Jesus turned the question around and asked them why they were willing to break commandments for the sake of their tradition!
Somehow the Pharisees and the scribes had allowed themselves to prioritize their traditions over the very commandments of God. These rules about being ceremonially unclean really did not matter to Jesus. Look at what Jesus did with the water for ceremonial cleansing at the wedding in Cana in Galilee. He took that water and repurposed it -- for God's glory.
Traditions are never to be the end all, and yet they can so quickly become just that. We were so excited about the very first baptism in our church in Russia. We had only been there a few months and the Lord had allowed us to meet a wonderful woman who had given her life to Jesus Christ. We didn't have a beautiful church -- we had a rented hall at a horse stable! The place was not very clean and nor did it smell very nice. How were we going to have a baptism service?
We looked around our little apartment and found a white throw blanket that we could lay on the floor so that the one being baptized could have something clean to kneel on and we took a crystal bowl in which we could put water to sprinkle on her for the actual baptism. This was our best solution to the problem of not having anything else that we could use! That Sunday we had a beautiful service and a wonderful baptismal time as we celebrated this sacrament.
Every time we had a baptismal we continued to bring the blanket and the crystal bowl with us, because this seemed to work well -- easy to carry to the rented facility where we were holding services. However, after about a year and a half, at another baptismal service I began to overhear some of the church folks commenting. "Ah, I believe the blanket is white because it represents the cleansing from sin." "You must have a blanket on the floor for baptisms in the Church of the Nazarene." "You must have a crystal bowl for the water to be holy." My husband and I thought -- Oh no! What have we done? We had simply grabbed the blanket and the crystal bowl because they were convenient. Now, the people believed that this was the tradition that HAD to be followed in order for there to be a baptism. We worked hard to break them of that habit because the tradition mustn't overshadow the sacrament.
In a practical sense there are traditions that we sometimes allow to get in our way of our relationship with Jesus Christ. How many young people that we know these days feel uncomfortable coming to church because when they arrive they experience particular traditions that might actually become barriers to their ability to worship God? We may not think that they are traditions, but many of the things that we hold dear and believe are important are simply traditions -- and not commands of God.
Early in our days of ministry we were working in an inner city of a large city in North America. The children coming in on the bus ministry were very poor and needy. They could not survive the Sunday morning Sunday School hour. Honestly -- it was too boring, the teachers were frustrated at these kids' inability to sit still, and it was a major battle every Sunday. We soon discovered that part of the problem was because these children were hungry -- and needed someone to give them more attention so they could learn.
As a team we brainstormed about running this ministry on Saturday mornings when we had a full host of individuals who could give them the love and attention that they needed. We would begin the morning by feeding them breakfast. Then they would move from station to station throughout a two hour period, keeping them stimulated and interested. We wanted them to know that we cared enough about them and loved them enough that we would do this just for them.
But then came the big church meeting. We were told that you couldn't have Sunday School on Saturday -- it just wasn't right. We were told that we were messing with the tradition of the church. How could we minister to kids on Saturday and not on Sunday. Finally we were told that we could do this on Saturdays but would still have to run the buses on Sundays and do it that day too. The Saturday program was a huge success. But by forcing the team to bring the kids back on Sunday (where they weren't wanted) it became a major struggle. The Saturday team burned out after about a year because of the pressures of the "traditional" church. And the community kids eventually quit coming.
We must all examine our lives and determine whether there are traditions that we have worshipped rather than the Savior himself. There should be no obstacles between us and him. We should not create barriers for others to get to Jesus either! What will we do to make the path clear for our blessed Jesus?
Jesus was telling the Pharisees and scribes -- get the plank out of your own eye! Make the way clear for Jesus!
Lord, please help me not to create obstacles to faith. May you be clearly seen! Amen.