Tradition (or Just Fiddling Around)

Java Altar

And Jesus said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” (Mark 7:9)

I don’t know what Jesus’ beef is. His dad started the tradition business among the Jews in the first place. That’s what most of the Old Testament is about. Books like Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are huge gigantic extremely wordy books about the traditions the Jews are supposed to keep. He point-blank tells them to do the stuff over and over. He tells them to teach their kids to do the stuff over and over. That’s what a tradition is: repeating repetitive redundancy over and over in exactly the same way. It’s what makes religion boring in a meaningful sort of way. Tradition makes God predictable, which is a good thing when you’ve got a God who likes to make things up as he goes along.

Tradition is important to God. For one thing, traditions take the pressure off him to have to perform all the time. By setting up traditions God can sit back and relax and let humans do most of the work. This is probably why he still considers the Sabbath a day of rest; he gets to sleep in. Tradition is also a way God can keep score on his people. He can tell at a glance if they are following the traditions he set up. If they don’t, he can mark that down. When they get enough marks against them, he can send a prophet with their report card. If they continue to screw up, God can kill off a few of them, which usually gets things going again. (Think of death and destruction as divine jumper cables.) In education this system would be called behavioral objectives, which is a fancy name for grading somebody based on their performance. This is nice for the people since they know what’s expected of them, and nice for God because he doesn’t have to deal with fuzzy heart issues. Tradition is a cut-and-dried approach to religion.

What God doesn’t like is when people come up with traditions he didn’t think up. I think this is mostly because God likes to be first in everything. This is probably a throwback to the days when God was the only one around and he could just make up rules without asking. Anyway, he gets irked when people come up with some traditions that he didn’t come up with first. It doesn’t matter whether they’re good ideas or not; if God didn’t come up with them, he usually doesn’t like them one bit. Take for example the tradition of washing your hands before eating. No brainer, right? Wrong. When the hand-washers ask Jesus why his disciples didn’t wash theirs before eating, Jesus gets all huffy and demands to know why they don’t do God’s traditions instead, like having clean hands when you eat isn’t all that big of a deal. You can tell that Jesus wishes he had thought up the hand washing tradition himself (which science later proves to be a good idea too), but instead of just saying, “Oh, sorry. Guys let’s wash up.” and leave it at that, he jumps all over them about totally unrelated stuff. In psychology this has a name, but I can’t remember what it is.

Personally, I think there are a lot of really great traditions we’ve made up, even if God doesn’t like them all that much. For example, I love the tradition of having a huge family argument just before going to church. I also really like the tradition of a good cup of coffee in the morning, which is about as religious as you can get. You may have some nifty traditions of your own. All I’m saying is that if your traditions are ones that God didn’t make up himself, you’re probably going to hear about it.

I’m thinking that Jesus just needs to cool his jets a little on the traditions of men thing. The truth is that most of his dad’s ideas are a little creaky now. They’re so yesterday.  Besides, hardly anybody does them anymore, even the Jews. Well, except for the circumcision thing. But I don’t want to go there right now.

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