We know from studying epidemiology that more knights in shining metal armor died because of the very dangerous armor itself than from combat injury. The shining armor was so constricting, so suffocating, and so cumbersome that the knight would be overcome by heat exhaustion and drop dead of a heart attack. We can forget that at times the usually good rules and customs of a people can become a deadly suit of armor. They can cause the death of a person’s heart. And Jesus knew this.
We are reading from Mark again and we hear how Jesus is being closely watched by the custom-bound Pharisees. He is apparently breaking one of the many tiny and demanding laws created to protect the Law of Moses. They tell Jesus that he is breaking the rule and custom and then he answers them with a retort that is usually said in anger. He is not angry at the people, but deeply frustrated at the idea of customs and ideas and traditions that cause the death of the heart and soul of a people.
Now, Jesus knew that the holy Law is a sign of God’s own love. We do not forget that Jesus knew clearly from Deuteronomy that Moses had called on the chosen people to accept and observe the Law in its entirety, without addition or subtraction. The holy Law did not need help; it needed whole-hearted observance. Bear in mind that accepting and observing the Law is much more than a matter of obedience, it is, in fact, the actual furthering the plan of salvation. In its purpose the Law in its integrity creates life; it does not suffocate it. The prescriptions of the Pharisees actually destroyed and weakened life.
In the local culture of New England, manners have traditionally been very important. Manners help relationships develop and be maintained. They allow respect for self and others to flourish. But when manners cover up for indifference or outright contempt, we are in very, very deep trouble. Our words and ways must be honest expressions of respect and love. They must communicate a sense of mutual trust and responsibility.
What is true about daily life is all the more true about religion. The core of our religion cannot be found in this or that era, custom, tradition, or set of rules. Searching for the heart of faith in any of these places may simply be romanticizing a particular period in Christian history and endowing it with authority above all others. It becomes a false idol. Faith must be lived authentically and honestly without repression or superstition in the present moment. This, alone, is not always easy.
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