Mark 7:1-13 (ESV)
1 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “ ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ 8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” 9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honour your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban” ’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
Christians are different to kangaroos. Kangaroos don’t seem to spend hours preparing a piece of music for other kangaroos to enjoy. Neither do kangaroos plant bombs on kangaroos who have different ideological commitments. Humans have potential to do beautiful creative acts and the ability to instil terror into others.
Human beings are able to ‘exclude’ others and ’embrace’ others. This is true in our religious practises, we can exclude people or we can embrace them.
Now as a Christian should we exclude or embrace?
We may straight away want to answer and say ’embrace’ but matters are more complicated for exclusion and embrace often go hand in hand. To embrace those of a different ethnic grouping may involve the exclusion of the racist. To embrace ‘environmental issues’ brings with it an exclusion of those who don’t agree. Exclusion is not merely to be understood as putting someone out of the community but a recognition that part of their behaviour, attitude or lifestyle is inappropriate.
God had called his people Israel to be blessing to the world, alight to the nations. The law was intended to aid in this task. Yet the Pharisees took the law of embrace and instead used it to correct a wall around themselves. Jesus (v13) says that although they keep traditions they violate the word of God. The Pharisees did not embrace the ‘honouring of their parents’ but embraced the traditions of man.
As a church in a post-Christian society we must hold lightly to all church traditions. Our allegiance is to the word of God, and this is intended to be a missional calling. If our traditions get in the way of our missional calling then we should reject them.