It seems to me that there might be something in what Jesus is saying about “mere human tradition” –
In today’s Gospel Story (Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23) Marks explains some of the rules of Judaism, and Jesus says, “You disregard God’s commandment and cling to mere human tradition”. The established religion of the day put the following of rules above all else. In doing so, he said they were disregarding God’s will and putting their own importance ahead of it.
It is not much of a stretch to see glimmers of a parallel with religious systems of today. Many of them place greater importance on following their rules than on anything else. In the Christian tradition some religions place more emphasis on obeying their rules than on transformation in Christ. If I follow all the rules, I am thereby qualified to pass judgement on others who do not follow my interpretation of the rules. Thus, people whose lifestyles do not fit with a particular interpretation of the rules can be judged as “living in sin”, or some other such pejorative category, and certain sanctions, such as being denied the sacraments, etc, can justifiably (at least in the minds of those doing the judging) be imposed. Meanwhile the persons passing judgement are, of course right and correct, because Jesus thinks as they do. These judgements commonly are passed without much charity or understanding, always, though, in the name of Jesus. All the while good folks are hurting, and not always through their own fault. Where Jesus healed, others judge.
Persons invested in these rules, either those who dictate and enforce, or those who take pride in following them, really believe that Jesus is on their side, and that they are right and the rest are wrong. This often would seem to give them a sense of righteous superiority, which they might feel they need for one reason or another.
Jesus showed more than once that he did not go along with systems that led folks to think they had to follow the particular system’s rules in order to “please” God. He replaced all that with himself. He did not bring the people a new set of rules. He showed them God’s values, and invited them to spend time with him and learn how to live. He offered them a relationship, not a new set of laws and requirements. He invited folks to leave their familiar way of thinking and spend time with him, getting insight into how he thought. In so many ways Jesus freed folks from bondage, whether it was bondage from a disease or physical condition that led to their being ostracized by the system (ie, lepers, the woman who had been hemorrhaging for many years, who had been declared unclean by the system) or people whose status led to their being declared sinners (ie, tax collectors, the woman caught in adultery, who were social outcasts to the system). In our day we might think of: folks whose marriages did not work out, and who have remarried, thus placing themselves outside the possibility of sharing fully in Eucharist, etc; or folks who want same sex marriages for themselves or for others, and so on. Discrimination based on sex, inclination, legal status, etc, is therefore legitimized.
A serious danger is to folks who do not use only the approved terminology and categories to discuss matters of theology. Today’s systems have replaced the systems Jesus was against in his day. Where Jesus placed no limitations on grace (God being in their life), the systems make themselves unique channels and dispensers of grace. They set up their own system of requirements and laws. They place themselves between the folks and God. What would he say and do today?
In Jesus’ day as in our own, following Jesus is a life of discipleship leading to transformation. This journey means that we listen to what Jesus says, and do our best to live it, to live as we see him living, to be compassionate with folks as we see him being compassionate. With Jesus we move from a sense of Jesus that we have received from others to one based more on our own experience of being with Jesus. He teaches that everyone has access to the Father with and through him. There are no other requirements and, thus, there is no room for judging others based on our journey. In the great meals which our tradition says prefigure the celebration of Eucharist we see Jesus welcoming all to his table. Why is it that what Jesus did as a way to bring folks together and nourish them has become in some traditions a process of discrimination, of controlling, and of keeping folks away?
In the Story Jesus says that it is what comes out of a person that defiles. Good folks who suffer often act out of their pain. This does not make them evil. It makes them deserving not of punishment in any form, but of the compassion Jesus showed towards hurting folks of his day. No threats, no judging from folks who have all the answers (I include myself here), only compassion and his Father’s healing love.
Just saying . . .