Thursday, April 14, 2016

Masters Memories

Submitted by Jim Garner
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” Matthew 15:1-2

One of my fondest memories while serving at a previous church in Georgia was the opportunity to experience ‘The Masters’ at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. That day in April went way beyond the expectations I had for it and that was high after watching the tournament annually on television. As a sports fan I had always admired the sheer beauty of the course, while appreciating its heritage and traditions. The day I walked through the gates to enter the hallowed grounds of Augusta was like walking into a magical land that movies or books tried to describe but could not do it justice. It is definitely a “bucket list” item for any sports fan, especially an avid fan of golf.
Looking back on my experience several things stick out making it unique and special. First, the course is maybe the most beautiful place I have ever seen. The “keepers” of the course have it impeccably manicured from the fringe around the greens to the blooming azaleas in spring. The colors “pop” on HD but in real life it is unbelievable. Second, the challenge of the course is in the greens – chipping and putting. Most of these pros can drive it well setting up great opportunities to score well. But how you play the shot into the green with the resulting putt(s) is where the challenge lies and the score determines the next champion. Third, the traditions are unmatched in any sporting event that I am aware of. From the green jacket being presented to the winner of the tournament, the white overhauls worn by the caddies, the tasty concessions of egg salad or pimento cheese sandwiches purchased at “yesterdays” low prices make the entire “Masters” experience completely unforgettable.
Just like the Masters, most cultures offer traditions that are unique and special. They are typically based on good times or remembering something important. However, many times traditions can become outdated or out of place. They can also lead to misunderstandings, poor judgment, or even stymie growth of individuals or organizations.  Jesus often dealt with this during his earthly ministry through the opposition he constantly faced with the religious leaders.
In Matthew 15 we see the damaging effect of tradition. People commonly recognized the Pharisees passed on ancestral laws not written in the Law of Moses. This “tradition of the elders” was the oral interpretation of the first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch. These were orally passed from generation to the next. In their minds these “traditions” were just as valid and important as the actual written law.
Hand washing was one such extra-biblical tradition. It actually had nothing to do with hygiene but ritual. The prescribed hand washing might have resulted from contact with a Gentile, an example of an “unclean” group or thing. This tradition was very elaborate in the sense of a certain amount of water had to be used in a specific way. The fingers and hands had to be pointed in certain ways and the cleaning process had to be done properly. The strictest of Jews practiced this not only before the meal but in between courses as well.
Jesus was confronting them because they were missing the point of the Law again. As he said in verses 3-6: “Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” (Matthew 15:3-6)
Jesus wanted to know why they were actually using “traditions” to disobey God’s commandments.  They knew from the commandments that they were supposed to honor their parents by supporting them materially in sickness or in old age. But the oral tradition paved a way for them to avoid this commandment of God. Jesus called them on it with a simple but strong phrase in verse 7 – “You Hypocrites!” Yikes! He wasn’t playing around and was making his point to be careful of traditions especially if it takes us away from the truth and practices of what we are called to believe and do. He even quoted the Old Testament when he brought Isaiah into the picture:
“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” (Isaiah 29:13)
As Christians and the Church we must be careful to not give lip service to God with hearts a long ways from him. There are many traditions we practice that used to mean well or seemed appropriate for the times. But if not kept within the true meaning of God’s Word and simply applied within the context of Jesus own words: “Love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself”, traditions can become a problem and should go the ways of the past. In other words…history. 

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