Shadowed by Traditions

Readings for the day (Lectionary 31, Sunday, November 4, 2018):

Deuteronomy 6:1-9

Psalm 119:1-8

Hebrews 9:11-14

Mark 12:28-34

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Halloween is a tradition that is fun for all ages.  This year our kids were so excited to carve pumpkins, that by the time Halloween finally came, the designs that they made were undetectable.  It’s a fun tradition that many people, especially children, look forward to.

Now I saw in this last week, that a group of people are trying to change this Halloween tradition.  They want the “official” day for Halloween moved to the last weekend of October, rather than on October 31st every year.  Their argument is that it will be safer and less chaotic because parents would not have to race home after work to bring their children trick or treating.  Which would allow for children to hit the streets earlier, when it is still light out.  Now if they hit the streets earlier for trick or treating, do you think that will mean they will come home sooner?  Or will they just have more time to get to more houses, which means more candy they can acquire and more candy they can eat?

An online petition has even been created, requesting that the White House change the official date of Halloween from October 31st to the last Saturday of October.  So far, 50,000 people have signed the petition.  My first thought was, this will never happen.  Halloween has such an engrained tradition in our society that moving the official day would be incredibly challenging to change.  October 31st is part of our culture.  It is part of who we are and what we do.  We dress up.  We hand out candy.  Those of us old enough to remember, we talk about the Halloween blizzard of ’91.  Can you have Halloween on any other day besides October 31st?

Traditions, like trick or treating on the night of Halloween, are hard to nearly impossible to change.  These traditions are so difficult to change because we enjoy them.  They give us something to look forward to.  They are predictable.  They bring us comfort.  They become part of who we are and what we do.  Traditions are like those home-cooked comfort foods that you enjoy.  You enjoy them because they make you feel good.

Plus, the strong attachment to traditions is nothing new.  For the first century Jews, their traditions were everything to them.  One of the reasons why Jesus ended up hanging on a cross is because he bucked the system.  He pushed against those engrained traditions.  He challenged the reasons for their traditions.  He wanted them to consider what was most important – their traditions or God’s Word.  Jesus tried to get them to consider God’s Word and His purpose for their lives as something greater than their traditions.

In the Gospel story we have for today, we are in the beginning of Holy Week.  Jesus has already entered Jerusalem with the crowd laying palm branches and coats on the ground as He rode in on a donkey.  Now the Pharisees and the Sadducees are trying to trap Jesus into saying something that will certainly condemn Himself.  Even their scribes are in on this corrupt plan.  A scribe, who is a legal expert, asks Jesus which commandment is first.  What he really wants to know is, out of the 613 of God’s laws, which one is the greatest and most important law.  Jesus answers with the Shema, quoting Deuteronomy 6, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”[1]  And Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He continues and says that there is a second greatest commandment, which is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[2]  This time Jesus was quoting from Leviticus 19.  The scribe is almost speechless.  He tells Jesus that He answered correctly and truthfully.  The scribe even calls him teacher.  Which means that the scribe is acknowledging that Jesus knows what He is talking about.

What Jesus is doing here is that He is challenging the people, especially the Pharisees and Sadducees, to realize what is greater and more important than their “sacred” traditions; which is these greatest commandments.  To love God, and to love your neighbor.  Following these two commandments is God’s ultimate desire for His people.  If you look back to the story of Moses when he was receiving the Ten Commandments from God.  These commandments are divided into two tables or sections.  Commandments one, two, and three deal with our relationship with God.  1. Have no other gods.  2. Don’t use the Lord’s name in vain.  3. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.  All three of these, when followed, help strengthen our relationship with God.  And when they aren’t followed, our relationship with God deteriorates.  So Jesus says, the greatest commandment…love God.  Work on your relationship with Him.  Get to know Him better.  Love Him.  Serve Him.  Obey Him.  The second table or section of the Ten Commandments includes the remaining seven commandments.  These seven deal with our relationship with our neighbor.  4. Honor your parents.  5. Don’t murder.  6. Don’t commit adultery.  7. Don’t steal.  8.  Don’t bear false witness.  9 & 10. Don’t covet.  When these commandments are followed, our relationship with our neighbor is strengthened.  And when they aren’t followed, we destroy our relationship with our neighbor.  So just as Jesus said, love God; He says, love your neighbor also.  Love your neighbor.  Serve your neighbor.  Care for your neighbor.

As Jesus is nearing the end of His earthly ministry before the tomb, He is making the point that His ministry, the mission of the church, the purpose for all the people of God, is not to follow traditions and keep them alive for the sake of keeping them alive.  But rather, this all comes down to relationships – a relationship with our God and a relationship with our neighbor.

As in the case of changing the Halloween tradition, what’s most important?  Is it more important to go out trick or treating on October 31st, the actual day of Halloween?  Or is it about parents spending time with their children running all over town knocking on doors and ringing door bells in costumes?

And this isn’t just for Halloween either.  What about Thanksgiving or Christmas?  Thanksgiving is a little over two weeks away.  Christmas is only 51 days away.  Are you one that insists that Thanksgiving has to be celebrated on Thanksgiving day?  And likewise, Christmas has to be celebrated on Christmas Eve or Christmas day?  If so, which is more important, the tradition of Thanksgiving and the big turkey dinner, or the time gathering together with family and friends to share in a meal regardless of what day it is?  Or which is more important, the tradition of Christmas and the opening of presents, or strengthening your relationships with your friends and family by celebrating the birth of our Savior?

Traditions are good as long as they don’t overshadow the purpose behind the tradition.  For the first century Jews, that is exactly what was happening.  The act of carrying out the tradition was more important than what the tradition itself actually did.  Such as the tradition of temple sacrifices.  The forgiveness of people’s sins was to be done by making animal sacrifices to God.  Except the act of doing the sacrifice became more important than God actually forgiving people’s sins.

What about you?  Are you holding on to any traditions for the wrong reasons?  Are you letting any traditions overshadow the real purpose behind the tradition?  Remember that God’s ultimate desire is for you to love Him and to love your neighbor.  He cares more about you than about any tradition.  Jesus hanging on the cross proves that.  If traditions is what He cared most about, He wouldn’t have been hung on a tree.  But He did go to the cross, for you.  Not for some silly tradition.  He went to the cross to give you life because He loved you first.  Amen.

 

 

© 2018 Anthony Christoffels.  All Rights Reserved.

[1] Mark 12:30, NRSV

[2] Mark 12:31, NRSV

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