Hebrews 2:5-13

750x422.jpeg.b46f7a8e34f14737ac39e2c1cfba5af4

Hebrews 2:5-13

For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor,  8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” 13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

When I was in ninth grade I went on a school trip to Italy. The trip was led by mother, Diane Richardson, who was for many years the Latin teacher at Thomas Sumter Academy in Dalzell, South Carolina. It was a wonderful trip. I will never forget first seeing St. Peter’s, the Coliseum, the Pieta, the Sistine Chapel and so many other amazing creations and works of art. But what I was really unprepared for was Michelangelo’s statue of David in Florence.

david_statue_close_up-scaled

The statue itself is overwhelming. It is 17 feet tall and weighs 12,000 pounds. It was carved from a single block of marble. The detail on it is stunning. I remember looking at the veins in those massive hands and thinking, “How on earth did Michelangelo do this?!” That statue is so realistic that you can imagine David simply stepping off of the pedestal and walking out into the world. It is truly amazing!

But I must say that the effect is profoundly heightened by the building in which it is placed and the journey that the viewer must go on to reach it. The statue of David is housed in Accademia Gallery in Florence. To get to the statue one must pass down a hallway known as the Hall of the Prisoners.

1

The hall is called this because it contains a number of unfinished statues by Michelangelo in which male figures are still imprisoned in their blocks of marble. The statues were intended to be part of what would have been another of Michelangelo’s great creations: a massive and awe-inspiring tomb for Pope Julius II. Alas, the tomb never came to be and the statues remain half-formed and imprisoned in marble.[1]

It is a powerful and somewhat disturbing experience to stand before these figures in the Hall of Prisoners. They look as if they are straining to be free, straining to be complete, pushing to break loose from the marble in which they are captured.

So the visitor to the Accademia Gallery in Florence walks down this amazing hallway studying these half-formed prisoners. But, at the end of the Hall of Prisoners, under the great dome of the Tribune, stands David: free, majestic, complete, seemingly perfect.

It is the contrast that gets you: incompletion gives way to completion, deformation gives way to formation, flaw gives way to perfection, imprisonment gives way to freedom. The Hall of Prisoners gives way to the great resplendent statue of David!

4

It really must be seen to be believed!

As I read Hebrews 2:5-13 my mind went back to the prisoners and to David, to this experience of passing from this hallway to the great work of art that the statue of David is. Maybe it resonated with me and, I suspect, with the vast majority of viewers because it symbolizes a tension that we all feel in our souls: the tension between what we want to be and what we really are, the tension between our aspirations and our realities, the tension between our “oughts” and our “is-es.”

We want to be David, but we feel that we are half-formed blocks of marble.

We want to be great, but we look at our lives and realize we are anything but.

Our text steps into this dynamic and tells us something important: we were made to be resplendent children of God and, though we have fallen and are marred, though we became prisoners through our sin, in Jesus we can become what God wants us to be.

But there is more. The scriptures tell us that Jesus, the perfect God-Man, stepped off of his pedestal and walked into the hall of prisoners that is the world and took on our imprisonment and our fallenness on the cross in order to set us free to become all that God intends.

Put another way: Jesus’ humility and exaltation enable and encourage the church to be more and to accept that we aremore than what the devil tells us we can be and are.

Continue reading

Hebrews 2:1-4

750x422.jpeg.b46f7a8e34f14737ac39e2c1cfba5af4

Hebrews 2:1-4

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

In O.S. Hawkins’ fantastic and fascinating book, In the Name of God: The Colliding Lives, Legends, and Legacies of J. Frank Norris and George W. Truett, he recounts the moving words that B.H. Carroll, the founding President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said to his successor, L.R. Scarborough, in 1914 as Carroll lay on his death bed.

Upon his death bed, B. H. Carroll issued a final charge to Scarborough. Carroll appealed that if heresy ever came to the seminary, he should take it to the faculty. If they did not give it a fair and honest hearing, then Carroll said to take it to trustees of the seminary. If this failed, then, in Carroll’s words, he should take it to “the common people of the churches and they will hear you.” Carroll further pleaded with Scarborough to “keep the seminary lashed to the cross.”[1]

That image of being “lashed to the cross” is powerful and profound. He was telling Scarborough to tie himself, to bind himself and the seminary to the cross and to the message of the cross, the gospel. He was, in effect, warning Scarborough that it is possible to drift from the cross, from the gospel, if we are not lashed to it.

In many ways the writer of Hebrews is saying the same thing in the beginning of Hebrews 2. He is calling on the church to lash herself to the cross, to lash herself to the gospel of Jesus. Why does he write this? Let us consider.

Continue reading

Hebrews 1:4-14

750x422.jpeg.b46f7a8e34f14737ac39e2c1cfba5af4

Hebrews 1:4-14          

having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”? And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.” But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” 10 And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; 11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, 12 like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” 13 And to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?

In the Bible, Michael the Archangel is beyond cool! He is depicted as a powerful, strong angel who wars against the devil and his forces of evil. He appears twice in the New Testament, for instance:

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12:7-9)

And again in the book of Jude:

But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” (Jude 9)

I love it! Truly awesome! Michael is a powerful being, to be sure, and one not to be trifled with. Were Michael the Archangel to suddenly manifest here among us I daresay we would be awed and terrified! Michael is to be revered…and yet it is possible to say too much about Michael. Consider the following from the December 15, 1984, edition of the Jehovah’s Witness publication The Watchtower:

Michael, the great prince, is none other than Jesus Christ Himself.

No. No he is not. This is too much. This is wrong. And yet the many adherents to the Jehovah’s Witness religion proclaim this, that Jesus is the angel Michael. This is not the first time that people have been confused about angels. For instance, some in the church of Colossae seemed confused on this point, otherwise Paul would not have written this in Colossians 2:18:

Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind.

Apparently even in the early church some were tempted to over-exalt angels as objects of worship. And there appears to be another biblical example of this, as evidenced by what the author of Hebrews does in the remainder of Hebrews 1. Here, he differentiates Jesus from the angels and exalts Jesus above the angels. He does this is a most-powerful way.

Continue reading

Hebrews 1:1-3

750x422.jpeg.b46f7a8e34f14737ac39e2c1cfba5af4

Hebrews 1:1-3

1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high

In 2021 a (now “former”?) Christian musician shocked his many followers by tweeting the following:

Jesus was Christ.

Buddha was Christ.

Muhammad was Christ.

Christ is a word for the Universe seeing itself.

You are Christ.

We are the body of Christ.

In response to the many outraged comments of his fans, Gungor appealed to the influence of the liberal Franciscan Richard Rohr. Rohr, among other things, has drawn a distinction between “Jesus” and “Christ” and has argued that “Christ” cannot be reduced to and contained only in the historical figure of Jesus.[1] (I note that this distinction between “Jesus” and “Christ” is a favorite of theological liberals and takes many forms.) In Eliza Griswold’s New Yorker review of Rohr’s book The Universal Christ that so influenced Gungor and his tweet, she writes tellingly;

More conservative Christians tend to orient their theology around Jesus—his death and resurrection, which made salvation possible for those who believe. Rohr thinks that this focus is misplaced. The universe has existed for thirteen billion years; it couldn’t be, he argues, that God’s loving, salvific relationship with creation began only two thousand years ago, when the historical baby Jesus was placed in the musty hay of a manger, and that it only became widely knowable to humanity around six hundred years ago, when the printing press was invented and Bibles began being mass-produced. Instead, in his most recent book, “The Universal Christ,” which came out last year, Rohr argues that the spirit of Christ is not the same as the person of Jesus. Christ—essentially, God’s love for the world—has existed since the beginning of time, suffuses everything in creation, and has been present in all cultures and civilizations. Jesus is an incarnation of that spirit, and following him is our “best shortcut” to accessing it. But this spirit can also be found through the practices of other religions, like Buddhist meditation, or through communing with nature. Rohr has arrived at this conclusion through what he sees as an orthodox Franciscan reading of scripture. “This is not heresy, universalism, or a cheap version of Unitarianism,” he writes. “This is the Cosmic Christ, who always was, who became incarnate in time, and who is still being revealed.”

“All my big thoughts have coalesced into this,” he told me. “It’s my end-of-life book.” His message has been overwhelmingly well-received.[2]

The upshot of all of this is tragic. This attempt to dichotomize “Jesus” and “Christ” does great violence to the picture presented us in the scriptures. In the scriptures, Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God and is not merely one manifestation of “Christ” among others. With all due respect to Rohr and Gungor et al. this is indeed heresy and it is indeed universalism. It diminishes Jesus and it guts the great Christian creed, “Jesus is Lord!”

If one were to look for the exact opposite approach to Jesus, one would need look no further than the book of Hebrews. This is a Jesus-entranced book. It is a beautiful book. And it elevates and exalts Jesus as Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Lord, Jesus the Son of God, and Jesus the only hope of the world!

The first three verses of the book are staggering. Ray Stedman writes, “The epistle to the Hebrews begins as dramatically as a rocket shot to the moon.”[3] I love it! Indeed it does! Let’s go…

Continue reading

Matthew 15:21-28

the_gospel_of_matthew-title-1-Wide 16x9 copy 2

Matthew 15

21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

I still remember my amazement at a story I first heard in history class in high school. It is the story of what is known as “The Humiliation of Canossa,” which is summarized here:

The Humiliation of Canossa…sometimes called the Walk to Canossa…or the Road to Canossa, was the ritual submission of the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV to Pope Gregory VII at Canossa Castle in 1077 during the Investiture controversy. It involved the Emperor journeying to Canossa, where the Pope had been staying as the guest of Margravine Matilda of Tuscany, to seek absolution and the revocation of his excommunication.

According to contemporary sources, he was forced to supplicate himself on his knees waiting for three days and three nights before the entrance gate of the castle, while a blizzard raged. Indeed, the episode has been described as “one of the most dramatic moments of the Middle Ages”. It has also spurred much debate among medieval chroniclers as well as modern historians, who argue about whether the walk was a “brilliant masterstroke” or a humiliation.[1]

It is an amazing story because it demonstrates how the power of the church, and, specifically, the power of the pope, had grown beyond all imagining in the 11th century. Just think of it: the Holy Roman Emperor had to wait three days and nights…on his knees…in the snow…before the pope would see him about lifting his excommunication. To a Catholic, of course, excommunication is a matter of eternal life or death. To be excommunicated is to be damned, in the Catholic mind. And so we can understand, given that mindset, why the Emperor was willing to be so humiliated.

As I have gotten older I have come to see the story in a different light. I now marvel at the delay in granting forgiveness. Granted, I outright disagree with the idea that excommunication from the church damns a person, but given that this was assumed it is amazing that the pope was willing to make the Emperor wait for three days before granting forgiveness. Yes, I realize this whole scene was likely more about politics than theology when it came right down to it, but it is a chilling picture: making a person wait on their knees for three days and nights before giving forgiveness.

We may thank God that Jesus does no such thing. He is quick to receive the repentant and contrite heart. His arms are open to us! This is the heart of grace!

And yet, there is one story, the story of our text, in which Jesus also seems on the surface to make a person wait awkwardly before He responds favorably to the cry of faith. But this begs the question: Why? What was Jesus doing here with the Gentile woman asking for a miracle? Let us consider this amazing passage.

Continue reading

Matthew 15:10-20

the_gospel_of_matthew-title-1-Wide 16x9 copy 2

Matthew 15

10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” 12 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” 16 And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

The Bible talks a lot about the heart. It is also part of common discourse among evangelical Christians. We talk about “inviting Jesus into your heart” and about “heart-felt worship” and “heart-felt prayer” etc. But do we know what the heart really is?

Dallas Willard, in his seminal book The Renovation of the Heart, has offered a fascinating definition of “heart.” He writes:

…“heart,” “spirit,” and “will” (or their equivalents) are words that refer to one and the same thing, the same fundamental component of the person. But they do so under different aspects. “Will” refers to that component’s power to initiate, to create, to bring about what did not exist before. “Spirit” refers to its fundamental nature as distinct and independent from physical reality. And “heart” refers to its position in the human being, as the center or core to which every other component of the self owes its proper functioning. But it is the same dimension of the human being that has all these features.[1]

The heart, then, is central. It is the command center of the human life. Our lives flow out of the reality of our hearts. In Matthew 15:10-20 Jesus stresses this reality over and against the Pharisees’ insistence on externals.

Continue reading

Philip Yancey’s Where the Light Fell

41ktGbXtLeLThere was a time back in the day when I gobbled up Philip Yancey books. I found them provocative and insightful. What’s So Amazing About Grace? and The Jesus I Never Knew were welcome additions to my library. Somewhere along the way I lost contact with his writings. I do not know why.

I was interested when I saw that he had released a memoir. At first, I was unsure if I would continue through it. It seemed to me to be dwelling inordinately on his childhood. I was concerned about the pacing of it. I was also amazed at Yancey’s memory of the early events of his life. To be honest, I almost gave up. It’s not that it was bad or boring, it just did not really grip me.

Boy oh boy am I glad I did not give up!

The book is an unflinching confession of family dysfunction but also of the power of faith and the presence of a loving God. To summarize, Philip and his older brother grew up in the home of.a dominant and domineering woman whose faith and brand of Christianity can be called hyper and myopic. It also turned out to be manipulative and narcissistic. Yancey’s older brother has broken with the faith (or his mother’s version of it), due in no small part to what appears to have been a curse his mother put on him, a prayer she offered that God would change him or wound him or kill him. She has since, under Philip’s pleading efforts, made something of a kind of apology, apparently to no avail. Philip’s brother drifted from the fundamentalism and legalism of his mother’s faith and his own earlier adherence to it to various religious and philosophical explorations along with explorations of narcotics and sexual libertinism. He appears now to be in a better place, though dealing with certain physical debilitations.

Philip, while not walking the hedonistic path of his brother, had his own intellectual wanderings from the faith, but ultimately came back to a healthy and biblical view of God and the gospel.

This was a painful read, but ultimately a hopeful one. It’s a story of legalism, of hyper-fundamentalism, of religious abuse, of a broken family, and of the dangers of bad theology. It is also a picture of the power of family, of a brother’s love, of a brother’s efforts to foster peace, and of a brother’s refusal to give up either on God or his own fractured family.

I feel like I understand Yancey better now and, as a result, could re-read his works with even greater profit. Maybe I’ll do so.

For those who grew up in deep-South fundamentalism and know that world, this will be at times an awkward and uncomfortable read. For all readers, I would think, this will be a cautionary tale but, again, one that does not leave the reader in despair. There is indeed light in all this darkness, and, amidst the pain and heartbreak, it still gives hope and life.

This is an interesting book and, at points, powerful book. Highly recommended.

Gregg Olsen’s If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood

912DMUya5aLThis will be a relatively brief review. I saw someone reference this book on Twitter (I believe) and decided to listen to the Audible version. It was equal parts enthralling and horrific…but more horrific than enthralling. If You Tell is the story of abusive mother Shelly Knotek and her three daughters as well as the other unfortunate souls who found themselves pulled into the orbit of her manipulation, abuse, and even murder. The book is very upsetting and very difficult to get through. I was consistently outraged and amazed at the depths of Knotek’s cruelty.

Even so, as someone who does pastoral counseling, I am glad I was exposed to this story. If nothing else, it reminded me yet again to try to listen to what people are saying behind what they are saying and, of course, to take cries for help very seriously! My gosh, these girls went through hell on earth, as did, again, her other victims.

If there is a positive, it is the unbelievable courage, strength, and resolve of the three daughters, all of whom survived Knotek’s vicious wickedness. What is more, it did remind me of the astonishing ability that a strong and twisted personality can have to dominate and psychologically crush and torture others. Truly chilling.

A warning: there are probably lots of folks who will find this book too upsetting and too frightening to get through, with good reason. I would think that pastors, teachers, counselors, and those who work with young people and families could draw some important lessons and cautions from this book. I did…but it was tough gleaning.

Luke 1:26-38

2

Luke 1

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

In the middle of the 20th century, the British poet John Betjeman wrote a famous poem about Christmas. In the poem, he reflects on his memories of Christmas: the decorations, the glow of fires, family and friends gathering to celebrate, the bustle of shops and commerce, the festivities. But after listing all of these nice memories of the trappings of Christmas and as he approaches the conclusion of the poem he pivots to a question:

And is it true? And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

And is it true ?…[1]

He goes on to conclude that if the answer is yes, and if, in fact, “this most tremendous tale” is true, then nothing can compare to that fact.

I like that. And I agree. If the Christmas story is true, if it actually happened as the scriptures say, then all the things we love about Christmas pale in comparison to the truthfulness of the story.

“And is it true?…And is it true?”

The scriptures answer Yes! And the account of the annunciation, of the angel’s announcement to Mary in Luke 1, bears this fact out.

Charles Erdman wrote in 1929 that the verses of our passage constitute “the crown of all prophecy and…reveal…the supreme mystery of the Christian faith, namely, the nature of our Lord, at once human and divine.”[2] I like that too! That too is true!

Let us consider this true and amazing story.

Continue reading

Matthew 15:1-9

the_gospel_of_matthew-title-1-Wide 16x9 copy 2

Matthew 15

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,”he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

We can define legalisms as extra-biblical rules that, over time, can take on the air of divine commandments, though they are not. R. Kent Hughes has written of a fascinating example of legalism:

Dr. Howard Hendricks has remarked that he grew up in a legalistic home where the use of fingernail polish was enough to condemn one to Hell.  He said, “I repudiated legalism intellectually and theologically in 1946, but in 1982 I am still wrestling with it emotionally.” Extra-biblical restrictions take their toll.[1]

This is a great example. Somewhere along the line somebody read the biblical calls for modesty. Fingernail polish, it was determined, must be vanity and therefore a violation of biblical modesty. Thus, fingernail polish becomes a sin. Over time, this legalism, based on a very shaky premise (not, I hasten to add, biblical modesty but rather the premise that fingernail polish must be a violation of it) takes on the added weight of tradition. When this happens, there is not even the alleged biblical argument anymore, but rather simply the appeal to, “It just is!” or “Christians have known this for a long time, why don’t you?!”

To dismantle a faulty tradition, one must push against the canonizing power of time as well as the flawed premise behind the original argument. In the case of fingernail polish, that would look like this:

  • The fact that our tradition has said that fingernail polish is a sin for a long time does not make it a sin.
  • Why should we think that fingernail polish violates the call for modesty anyway? Why should we conclude that it always does?

Matthew 15 begins with Jesus being confronted with one such faulty tradition. I say “faulty” tradition because not all traditions are faulty. Some are good. Some are healthy. In fact, it may be more precise to say that tradition, in and of itself, seen simply as a shared memory, is healthy but traditionalism, meaning the weighty enforcement of “the way we do things” is unhealthy. Jaroslav Pelikan once defined tradition as “the living faith of the death” and traditionalism as “the dead faith of the living.” Seen in this light, what Jesus is pushing against in Matthew 15 is traditionalism, defined as tradition-off-the-rails!

In keeping with the language of our text, let us critique faulty tradition, flawed tradition, Pelikan’s traditionalism. We will do so in terms of “tradition maintenance” or “keeping up faulty and dangerous traditions.”

Continue reading