When I talk about our Anglican expression of the Christian Faith, I very often talk about the three pillars of Anglicanism; Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. These three pillars are a wonderful and powerful way to understand what makes us Anglican’s Anglican.
I want to focus on the pillar of Tradition. If you look around the St. George’s Church, and most Anglican Parishes in the area, there is an incredible amount of Tradition. Tradition permeates us right from the style and shape of the building and its furniture, to the words and prayers we speak and sing. At its best, Tradition guides us closer to the path of Christ and points directly to that the Truth that is Jesus Christ. Tradition means that we do not always need to re-invent the wheel, but we are able to walk in the well worn footpaths of the communion of saints who have gone before us. Yet the biggest danger of Tradition, or any of the three pillars, is the silent and subtle slip that can be made into loving the pillar rather than Jesus Christ who that pillar points us too.
In Mark’s Gospel, chapter 7, this is exactly the sort of sitiuation that we find Jesus confronting.
“So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”” (Mark 7:5)
I understand where the Pharisees and Scribes are coming from. This is a justifiable question. Jesus acts like a religious teacher and he teaches in the synagogues, so why does he allow his disciples to break the “tradition of the elders”? Jesus answers their question by quoting from Isaiah. His quote is a sharp criticism of the disconnect that he sees in these religious authorities between their love of tradition and their love of God. So Jesus highlights this disconnect by quoting from Isaiah 29 verse 13 in which God is speaking to Isaiah about his children and says, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines. You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
What is Jesus saying by pointing this passage from Isaiah at the Pharisees and the scribes, is that they have slipped into loving the traditions rather than God. Although they say the love God with their words they, knowingly or unknowingly, have stopped truly meeting God with their heart and have begun worshiping the human commandments they call “the traditions of the elders”.
Even for someone like myself who loves our Anglican Traditions, this passage, grabs me by the scruff of the neck and makes me ask myself, “What are you doing? Could you be guilt of the very same thing?” Many of us who gather for worship on any Sunday should ask ourselves the same questions. Are there not things that we continue to do, just because we have always done them, even after we can not remember why they are so spiritually important? Shouldn’t we be concerned that we may be at risk of having more in common with the Pharisees and Scribes than Jesus and his disciples?”
Isn’t it amazing how this piece of scripture, which itself was almost a thousand years old when quoted by Jesus, can so timely and effectively strike a cord with his followers even two more thousand years later?
I am sure that Jesus knew it would. Jesus also knew that the Pharisees and Scribe would know themselves that the next verse of that passage from the great prophet Isaiah continues with God saying, “so I will again do amazing things with this people, shocking and amazing. The wisdom of their wise shall perish, and the discernment of the discerning shall be hidden.” God is telling Isaiah how God has planned to handle this disconnect between God and his people. He promises to do amazing things, “shocking and amazing” and turn things on their ear. Jesus knew that by quoting verse 13 to the Pharisees and Scribes, he was also then pointing them to what is about to happen through the proclamation of the Good News that he is bringing. Jesus knew that the Good News he was preaching would achieve a complete transformation and renewal of the relationship between God and all humanity.
One of the greatest challenges that we face as Christians is to take the words of Jesus and actually put them into practice in our lives. Even with all our rich history and resources as Anglicans and as a parish church established for 154 years in this community, we too face the risk of falling to comfortably into the arms of Tradition and would allow ourselves to become imprisoned by words and actions powered solely by duty and familiarity, rather than be freed by the heartfelt passion of the Gospel.
The Rev’d Rob Park