Gifts to the Church → Tradition
We have often maintained that there is a stewardship message for us in every reading from Holy Scripture, and that on any given Sunday there is a potential opportunity for us to increase our understanding and wisdom in relation to what it means to live a stewardship way of life.
Today’s readings span an area that can be a challenge for us in terms of not only stewardship but also how we approach our faith lives and our relationships to the Church through our parish, our diocese, and the Universal Church as well.
The First Reading is drawn from the Book of Deuteronomy. Many are fascinated by the name of that Book — Deuteronomy. However, it is very basic, drawn from the Greek word Deuteronomiun, which quite simply means, “Second law.” The Book of Deuteronomy consists basically of three sermons given by Moses. In today’s reading Moses is addressing the idea of the Law. It has been said that one of the ways that Satan works in our lives is to make us “remember what we should forget” and to “forget what we should remember.” This is part of Moses’ message in this reading. The key word to understanding what Moses is saying is the word “tradition.” One of our human failings is to place too much emphasis on traditions while losing sight of the reasons for a tradition. Moses cautions the people and all of us also to avoid putting our very human perceptions on what God has called us to do.
Our focus as Catholics should be on eternal life, not on the particulars of the life we experience on earth. That does not mean that we do not strive to live holy lives and we do not commit ourselves to lives of service and love, but it does mean that we acknowledge that it is eternity with the Lord that is our goal. Just as Moses warns us not to base our lives on the traditions that are human-made, the Epistle of James asks us to measure life and the goodness of life not on our daily human experiences, but on the fact that “every perfect gift is from above.” In addition, just as Moses addresses the hypocrites and their practice of faith, James, too, reminds us that what we do is more important than merely giving the show of faith: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only.”
The Gospel from Mark addresses these human-based traditions using the phrases “keeping the tradition of the elders” and “things that they have traditionally observed.” Jesus, of course, calls them hypocrites and points out to them how their own priorities are out of order. Paralleling the statement from James about being “doers” and not just “hearers,” the Lord says, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” He goes on to say, “You disregard God’s commandment, but cling to human tradition.”
This is a similar caveat as that offered by Moses and James. Jesus’ response to them indicates that they need (and we do, also) to be more concerned about cleansing their hearts than their hands. Jesus’ apprehension is that each of us needs to be cleansed from the inside out, not from the outside in. Our faith, our practice of our faith, is only genuine if it comes from the heart. One of the adages associated with stewardship is that we need to “possess loosely.” That includes some of the traditions to which we may cling.
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