Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Breaking Free

"So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?" 6He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
" 'These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men. 8You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." Mark 7:5-8

This whole chapter in Mark is such a fascinating chapter. This is one of those times where Jesus totally broke free of tradition and began spouting off on the Pharisees. The religious leaders of that time were so caught up in maintaining tradition and the appearance of being religious that they lost sight of what it is all about- God. These men were so focused on the do's and don'ts and the doctrine that they didn't even "see" the Son of God standing before them. In this particular case, the whole episode began by eating with unwashed hands. It was a tradition in their culture to wash their hands before eating, (understandably so...) , but this time, the disciples simply ate without going through the traditional washing, which I imagine had a particular methodology as well. The Pharisees immediately called them out on it, asking Jesus why he allowed his disciples to be unclean.

Jesus kind of went off on the Pharisees then. Here they were, so focused on the rules and traditions that men had laid down, that they didn't see the bigger picture. They didn't see that it wasn't unwashed hands that made a man unclean. Jesus went on to tell them that it isn't what goes in the body that makes a man unclean, it's what comes out. And he wasn't talking about the physical stuff- he was talking about evil thoughts, slander and greed to name a few. Here, he explains further to his disciples:

"Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? 19For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.")

20He went on: "What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' 21For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.' " Mark 7:18-20

We hear a lot, especially this time of year, about traditions. We do this because we've always done it. We do that because that is what the church has always done. The problem with tradition and man-made rules is that we become so focused on them that we forget to focus on God. We sit in church for our candlelight service that we always do on Christmas Eve, and we think about how beautiful the candles are, and how Christmas just wouldn't be complete without the candlelight. When instead we should be thinking about how Christmas just wouldn't be complete without Jesus. Why should it matter if our service is by candlelight, campfire, or electric lights? Christmas should be about focusing on God, about drawing closer to him, and that we can do by any light. for that matter, we can do that in the quiet of our own homes, we don't need an organized, traditional service to do that.

I guess what makes me sad about Christmas is that I see everyone buzzing around like busy bees. Like frantic busy bees. They have programs and tasks and shopping and groups to organize, and I don't think I've talked with anyone yet this December who hasn't had that frantic look in their eyes as they try to squeeze in yet another activity. It would be one thing if everyone enjoyed being so busy, but who really loves running from one thing to another, always just a little bit late. I find it amusing when someone asks how we're doing and says that we must be so busy with all the things we're involved in. Um, no. Yes, we have things to occupy some of our time, but for the second year in a row, we've made a point to not get caught up in the must-do frenzy of the season. Instead, we're relaxing, enjoying our family and drawing closer to God together. Sometimes just saying no gives me such joy... because when I'm not spending every day running like crazy, I have plenty of time for God. When I can finish my day not exhausted, I can spend time with God and focus on Him without yearning for my pillow instead.

Breaking free of tradition and those man-made rules has only served to help me get closer to God. God's rules and God's laws are really the only ones that matter. I've always been a little nontraditional myself anyway, and I pray that I can stay that way. I pray that I will not be caught up in tradition that only serves to distract me from the real reason to celebrate Christmas.

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