Daily Devotion for January 10, 2014
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.
The Taize Community is an ecumenical Christian monastic order in France. This beautiful Kyrie is sung in a number of languages (I recognize five).
“A Little Prayer”
Let us be grateful, God, for health serene,
The hope to do a kindly deed each day;
The faith of fellowship, a conscience clean,
The will to worship and the gift to pray;
For all of worth in us, of You a part,
Let us be grateful, God, with humble heart.
[Let us close our eyes for a minute, and think about a sinful habit that we have great trouble overcoming.]
Prayer to Cast Aside Bad Habits
Mighty Holy Spirit, face of the one true God, help me, for I have slipped into bad habits. Something in me defies my attempts to change, and I feel compelled to do that which I do not want to do. I feel weak and ashamed, and I turn to you for help. Help me, dear God. Help me to resist this temptation. Lend me your mighty power to cast it aside.
You have graciously promised that you would not let us be tempted beyond our ability, but instead, would provide an escape for any temptation we pray to resist. Holy Spirit, show me my escape from my bad habit. Let me resolve to work on it, to pray on it, to turn it into a habit of good; for I know how you love righteous conduct, and my love for you longs to please you. Work your power to help me please you, mighty God; for I know that with your help, I can overcome any evil. In Christ's name, I pray,
The Lord bless us and keep us. The Lord make his face to shine upon us, and be gracious unto us. The Lord lift up his countenance upon us, and give us peace, this day and evermore.
Think of the day ahead in terms of God with you, and visualize health, strength, guidance, purity, calm confidence, and victory as the gifts of His presence.
To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.
~ William Temple, Nature, Man and God
Matthew 15:1-9 (ESV)
Traditions and Commandments
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:
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
Notes on the Scripture
Matthew is 28 chapters long, which means we have just moved into the second half by simple numerical count; and we immediately see a subtle shifting of gears, from the building of Jesus' ministry to the preparation for his death.
We might imagine that Archbishop LangtonThe chapter numbering we use today was created by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1207-1228. accomplished this intentionally, for the substance of the Gospel readily divides into two parts: 1) Birth and Ministry, and 2) Opposition, Death and Resurrection. Chapter 14 ends with a demonstration that Christ's ministry had become widespread, a sort of fulfillment scene for widespread acceptance of Jesus' teaching. And now, notice that the very first verse of Chapter 15 describes a group of Jewish leaders who have come from Jerusalem; the Sanhedrin is beginning an investigation of Christ.
The criticisms made by both the Pharisees and by Jesus are difficult to follow, as they are embedded in the society and religion of ancient Judaism. The Pharisees criticize Jesus' disciples for not washing their hands before they eat, and if we read this without preconception, our immediate reaction is to side with the Pharisees! But it is critical to understand that the issue being addressed is not one of physical hygiene (nor even the law of Moses), but rather orthodoxy and ritual.
The Jewish leaders had developed a set of rules beyond the law of Moses, and a precise ritual of hand-washing was one example. The disciples could have washed their hands of dirt and yet been in violation of the rules. And the uncleanness that concerned the Pharisees was not hygienic, but racial. The hand washing ritual was founded largely in a desire to purify oneself from the taint of Gentiles and other things ritually “unclean”.
This ritual was not ordained by God — you will not find it in Exodus or DeuteronomyThere is an extensive set of rituals about uncleanness and washing in Leviticus 15, but nowhere does one find the complex ritual prescribed by the Jewish authorities for hand washing before meals. — but by the priests; it was orthodoxy, a “tradition of the elders.”
But Christ has brought a righteousness of the heart and spirit, in opposition to seeking God by outward compliance with a complex set of external rules. The Pharisees criticize his disciples for not complying with a ritual; He criticizes them for using formal doctrine to evade true Godliness in their hearts.
Jesus' example is even harder to follow. What does washing one's hands have to do with honoring one's mother and father? It is truly obscure — even great scholars are hard-pressedThe Greek word corban, translated “given to God” here, can refer to several different types of dedicating items to God, or to something that is subject to an oath. to fully explain it — but we can get the drift. The Jewish leadership had apparently devised something similar to a tax loophole, whereby children could be wealthy and yet ignore the needs of indigent parents. Something like, “I'm sorry, but the part of my estate that would have been given for your support has been dedicated to God” — an abysmal dereliction of a clear duty under the law of Moses.
Whatever confusion we might feel in the first part, the quote from Isaiah is crystal clear. Judaism had exalted the form of worship over the substance of love and obedience to God. The Jews of the 1st century could be corrupt and evil, as long as they said the correct prayers at the correct time, etc. Even worse, they rituals they relied upon were not necessarily those of Moses (and therefore of God), but doctrine interpreted and imposed by the priests and scribes (such as the hand washing ritual).