In today’s reading Jesus speaks about traditions that negate the word of God. Naturally, Jesus condemns these traditions. However, scripture also says, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” (2 Thes 2:15) How are we to reconcile these two statements?
First, it is important to recognize that scripture does not condemn all tradition. There are traditions given us the Apostles (and their successors) that can be valid. What then are the traditions that are prohibited? From Jesus own words, “So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites!..” So it is tradition that makes void the word of God. In today’s reading it was a very specific tradition that Jesus was condemning. The practice had grown up the people would pledge to give all they owned to the Temple upon their death. On the surface this was a good thing. However, in practice, they kept their wealth their whole life and could in effect; stop giving to charity, specifically their elderly parents because they had promised it all to God. Thus the practice, or implementation of this tradition, had in effect voided the commandment to honor your mother and father. Hence, this tradition is not a valid tradition.
In contrast, let us look at something like the tradition of fasting on Fridays during Lent. This is not specifically required by scripture. However, Jesus himself fasts several times during his life and it is considered a good thing by the Bible. The tradition of fasting during Lent helps to focus the mind, body, heart and soul on the meaning of the coming Easter season. It also can serve as penance to prepare us for the celebration of the resurrection. Thus, this tradition serves to enhance our relationship with God and does not void any of His word. Therefore it is a tradition we can “stand firm and hold fast to.”
Finally, the tradition Jesus condemns in today’s reading probably started out as a good thing when in first began. Most likely, abuse of the tradition probably crept in over time. Thus, we should abandon traditions that no longer serve a proper purpose. Conversely, it is OK to start new traditions, to try and find way of enhancing our devotion to and focus on God, as long as those new traditions are scrutinized for a proper implementation.