Jesus has little patience with those who favor dead traditions over living relationships. It turns out that not all of the elders’ traditions are bad, but each one can become deadening over time. Maybe it’s inevitable that the life will be sucked out of what’s good when we try to preserve those things as institutions . What is meant to be life-giving may become a dead routine over time. What begins as an impulse to purify ourselves before God turns into an obstacle that keeps us from experiencing God’s presence.
Jesus encounters this phenomenon within his own religious tradition, just as we encounter similar attitudes and realities in our own. Somebody is always keeping watch to tell us “you didn’t do that right.” After a while, we start looking over our shoulders for permission to do anything innovative or—God forbid!—something occasioned by the Holy Spirit.
A colleague once brought home an order of worship from a church he’d visited while he was out of town. Almost an entire page outlined the reasons why a visitor might not be eligible to take Communion there. Imagine that. Despite the rise of the “nones,” the percentage of our population that wants nothing to do with religion, and the never-ceasing scandals that seem to embroil the Church, we’re still setting up obstacles that will keep people from experiencing the presence of the living God.
The good news is that Jesus always calls us to move from the deadness of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” into new life. “We’ve never done it that way before” are often the seven last words of a church. Sometimes Jesus shows up long after the doors have closed saying, “maybe it’s time to try it my way.”
When have you traded an openness to God’s Spirit for whatever ensures applause?
God, may we be open to your Spirit’s cleansing. Amen.