“The Authentic Tradition”
1. The Importance of Tradition
One of the important themes today’s Bible passage deals with is tradition. Tradition is very important for our spiritual journey. Tradition guides and teaches us how to live out our faith in our context. Tradition provides us with the ample examples of our spiritual ancestors who tried to live out their faith in the past. Through these examples, we could gain wisdom to discern the will of God in our times and gain courage to live out the faith in spite of oppositions in the world. Also, tradition gives us the insight to avoid mistakes our spiritual ancestors made before. That is why our denomination, Methodists, considers tradition as one of the most important authorities for our spiritual journey. (Wesleyan Quadrilaterals: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience) The Bible, itself, could be seen as the collection of tradition. In the Bible, we can see and learn how our spiritual ancestors, such as Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, Peter, and so on, faithfully follow the way of God. Also, we can see their failures from time to time. From the both of them, we learn the valuable lessons for our own life. That would be the one of the reasons why reading the Bible is essential for our spiritual journey. Learning about the history of Christianity is also very important with the same reason. Our two thousand year history shows how God works through human beings. This history is the valuable resources and guidance for our future. Although the context would be very different from each other, the fundamental struggles our spiritual ancestors had are similar to ours. In this sense, learning about the history of Christianity would be the learning about ourselves, and even learning about our future.
Tradition is the wisdom and guidance for today and future. Tradition is the authority we can depend on for our spiritual journey. However, in spite of the importance of tradition, I have often experienced that tradition becomes obstacle for the church ministries. In fact, the tradition is not the problem. The problem is how church members understand and deal with tradition. From time to time I found that some church members have a difficult time to differentiate between tradition and custom or convention. Custom is the habitual activities or pattern from generation to generation. I can say that custom in the church is something comfortable for the church members because they are doing collectively for a long time. There is no or little value behind of it. They are doing for a long time so that they are doing now. Tradition is somewhat similar to custom, but one big difference is value. Tradition is something valuable so that people keep having or doing it even by changing its form. The challenge in the church is often caused by the confusion between this tradition and custom. Some churches or some Christians would like to keep some customs, considering them as tradition, although there is no value or little value behind of them.
I often witness that church cannot move forward due to this attitude. Even this attitude harms the body of Christ and its main mission, to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. For this mission, the church should be changed because the world has been changed all the time. Certainly, we keep the main message of the church and also tradition. However, the form of tradition should be altered and the main message should be delivered in a different way based on the current world. Valueless customs should be abandoned from the church. Without this meaningful changes, the church could not be God’s church, at best, could be people’s church, not God’s one. However, many churches try to keep preserving their customs, not tradition, and dying. For example, I heard from one of my clergy friends that one church was divided because of the position of piano. One day, new pastor came to a church and changed the position of piano a little bit for some reasons. Somehow, this little change of the church made some church members uncomfortable and upset because they thought the position of piano was their tradition and new pastor ignored it. Thus, a severe argument arose and new pastor brought the piano back to the original position. I know it is silly, but it really happens.
In fact, these struggles, we could find everywhere. Jesus had also encountered with these attitude from Jewish leaders several times. Whenever Jesus found this attitude, he tried to teach them how to differentiate between tradition and custom and how to stick to the authentic tradition based on today’s world. However, the Jewish leaders did not listen to him. Rather they killed Jesus on the cross. Jesus’ attitude toward tradition was one of the main reasons why they kill Jesus on the cross. We remember that we could be the Jewish leaders who could kill Jesus today without thinking our custom and tradition seriously and critically. What we need is to learn how to find the authentic tradition from our various customs and how to stick to our tradition in our changing world. We can learn these valuable lessons from today’s Bible passage.
2. Healing on the Sabbath
In today’s Bible passage, Jesus taught people the Word of God in a synagogue on Sabbath. Teaching the Word of God in a synagogue on Sabbath is one of important traditions for Jewish people. Jesus taught people according to this tradition. As you might know, Jewish Sabbath is Saturday, not Sunday. In this day, Jewish people tried not to do any labor, except for worshipping God. Even now, some conservative Jewish people keep this tradition. They believed that doing any type of labor would be harm this holy day. That kind of pattern had observed for a very long time so that not doing any labor on Sabbath became the law for Jewish people at that time. While teaching the Word of God in the synagogue, Jesus found the woman who had suffered from the crippled back for eighteen years. In the middle of teachings, Jesus placed his hands on her, proclaiming her liberation from her sickness. That moment, she was completely healed and praised God. This is an amazing and wonderful miracle! However, some Jewish leaders were not happy about this healing. From their perspectives, Jesus not only healed the crippled woman, but also broke their tradition, broke their law. Jesus could heal her on the other day, without breaking Jewish tradition and law, but he didn’t. Thus, Jewish leaders were upset and angry about his healing, saying,
“There are six days in which we should work; so come during those days and be healed, but not on the Sabbath!”
I also used to ask the same question to myself. Why did Jesus break the Jewish law and tradition? Jesus could remember the crippled woman and heal her on other days, avoiding unnecessary argument or conflict against the Jewish leaders. Why did Jesus heal the woman in this controversial way? While I was thinking about this, I realized that Jesus did not break the Jewish law or tradition. Jesus only broke the custom. Jesus understood Sabbath tradition in a different way. Jesus’ fundamental understanding is that Sabbath is made for human beings.
“The Sabbath was made for the good of human beings; they were not made for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” – Mark 2:27-28
The reason why God created Sabbath is for human being’s well-being and rest through Him. Based on this understanding, healing the crippled woman on Sabbath is not breaking the Sabbath law or tradition. Rather, it is the proper way to celebrate the Sabbath because the suffering daughter of God was released from her captivity of sickness. From Jesus’ perspective, Jewish leaders’ strict Sabbath law and tradition was the meaningless custom, which should be altered. They did not see the real tradition and value behind of the custom, but stick to the facial level of tradition, not doing anything on Sabbath. They stick to what they were familiar with and comfortable with, without seeking the real meaning of their tradition. They were thinking about the human community and society, without thinking about God. Their emphasis on the custom without critical thinking and their focus on the human society without thinking about God led them to be blinded from God’s work, even led them to be against God’s work. Thus, Jesus intentionally healed the crippled woman in the middle of his teaching on Sabbath. Thus, Jesus scolded them harshly, saying:
“You hypocrites! Any one of you would untie your ox or your donkey from the stall and take it out to give it water on the Sabbath. 16 Now here is this descendant of Abraham whom Satan has kept in bonds for eighteen years; should she not be released on the Sabbath?”
What was the problem of the Jewish leaders in relation to tradition? I believe one of them would be that they simply follow the custom without the critical thinking. They believed doing nothing on the Sabbath was the right way because they were familiar with and comfortable with. However, Jesus challenged them to seek the real meaning of their long-standing custom and law. Secondly, the Jewish leaders maintained their own perspective, without thinking about the perspective of God. Although they thought they kept this Sabbath custom and law for God, but the real concerns for them would be the Jewish society which was based on this custom and law. There was no space for God in this tradition. Jesus challenged them to think about how God see the situation.
From this, we can learn two ways to differentiate valuable traditions from meaningless customs. Firstly, we need to keep asking the value behind of our current customs. Secondly, we try to see things from the perspective of God, coming outside of our limited and selfish perspective.
3. Discerning Tradition
1) Proper Cloth for Worship Service?
2) Proper Music for Worship Service?
3) Proper Day for Worship Service?
1) What strikes you most from today’s sermon?
2) What kind of tradition do you love in our church? Why do we keep having this tradition in the church? From the perspective of God, how can you evaluate this tradition?
3) What kind of personal habits or custom do you have? Why do you keep having this personal habits or custom? From the perspective of God, how can you evaluate this personal habit or custom?