Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Psalm 15
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

15th Sunday After Pentecost, September 2, 2018

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

There is a song, “Tradition,” from the Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” The story takes place in Russia in 1905, about the time of the blossoming of massacres and resettlements of Jews from their villages. The song “Tradition” is sung by a father, Tevye, who is a dairyman, who says what keeps the community together is their traditions. They are traditions on men, women, and marriage, which do not change but stay the same.

This sets up a story in which life in that Jewish village changes despite “Tradition” and they have no choice but to change with it or die.

The story in our gospel lesson for this morning is about tradition. It is about being so steeped in the reinterpretation of the Law of Moses ten times over so that the Law is forgotten for the tradition. The Scribes and Pharisees were upset because Jesus’ disciples were eating without having washed their hands. It has absolutely nothing to do with hygiene, but with the Law. Wash your hands, but not just wash them, was them this way, so many times.

Wash the kettles and cups and pots a certain way.

“Why do your disciples not do things according to tradition?” they ask Jesus. Jesus comes back at them, calling them hypocrites. Then he quotes Isaiah to them, saying, “This people honors me with only their lips, and their hearts are so far away from me. In vain do they worship me because they teach human traditions as doctrine.”

Jesus says, “What you eat, what goes into your body by your mouth doesn’t defile you. What comes out of your heart though, oh those things, they can defile. Evil intentions come from the heart, like fornication, adultery, theft, murder, licentiousness, avaricious greed, wickedness, deceit, envy, slander, pride, folly.” What is in your heart can defile.

The Pharisees gave the customs and traditions the same weight as God’s Law. Jesus tells them no. Tradition doesn’t get that place because they are a human invention and not ordained by God. True uncleanness comes through human intentions.

The Pharisees’ goal was to so regulate daily life that people couldn’t stray, and so holiness was brought to life.

To disregard the traditions concerning clean and unclean was to dismantle faith and the tradition. But to Christians, we don’t need faith regulated by traditions because Jesus makes us clean.

Not everyone was able to follow the rituals concerning washing. When Jesus fed the five thousand, who had the time and the place to observe ritual washing traditions? Where were 5,000 people going to wash and wash properly, according to tradition? What were they to do, starve instead? There was little or no water, no towels, no wipes, no hand sanitizer.

Many of the people following Jesus couldn’t follow these legalistic practices. Many were indigent, or ill, or demon possessed. Jesus accepts them as they are warts and all. That’s Good News. Because he accepts you warts and all too. By not worrying about the Jewish traditions, Jesus opens his ministry to those outside of Judaism. What one eats and how one eats has no power over your relationship with God, with the community, with one another.

If Jesus can be that open, we can be too. We can be open to doing new things too. We can be open to new people too.

The letter of James from this morning encourages us not to be just hearers of all of this but to be doers of God’s word too. Don’t let the traditions of this world take over your life. Don’t let the traditions of this world come before God, and don’t let them take God’s place in your life. Open yourself up to God, who through Jesus, has made you clean. Don’t get bogged down in tradition, ritual or custom, but be open to the new things God is doing among us and especially be open to new people, different people.