Does Jesus condemn all tradition? In today’s reading, Mark 7, the states:
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! … 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
While it certainly seems like Jesus is taking a strong stand against tradition we must also remember that it was Jesus at the Last Supper who with the words, “Do this in remembrance of me” instituted a new and most important tradition. And of course, St. Paul teaches us to “15 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.”
What then is the proper understanding of tradition?
As always, when Jesus raises a question He tells us the answer. Jesus condemns the Pharisees traditions because they “reject the commandment of God” and “make void the work of God”. Thus, traditions that don’t do these things, or stated conversely, traditions that further the work of God and are in accord with the Gospel can be valid. This is one of the things that Pope Francis is talking about now. Things like how to square the traditional teaching on divorce and remarriage with the higher ideals of the Gospel like mercy and love. These are difficult questions which is why God gave us a Church, guided by the Holy Spirit to help discern the answers.