“There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. . . He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means ‘Be opened!’)” At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly” (Mark 7:32-34).
Though Jesus met people randomly in his travels, and many sought him out , the gospels tell us some sought Jesus for what he could do for others.
You’d think that would be a good thing, but Mark has another point to make.
I can only think of one case where someone was invited to come hear what Jesus had to say. And yet, Jesus’ ministry was intended to be more about teaching people how to live than helping them through the rough patches of their lives. The Lord did both of course, but like raising people from the dead, his miracles were only temporary. Other illnesses would come, and so too would death. But what Jesus had to say would be of eternal benefit.
Here, faced with yet another plaintive plea for healing, Jesus, with a bit of exasperation – that’s that sighing deeply part – consents. And people are “overwhelmed with amazement” and speak glowingly of his work. Yet Mark tells us they paid no attention to what Jesus said (see verse 36).
It’s not the first time Mark makes this observation. It won’t be the last. The message is subtle but vital: turning to Jesus in moments of crisis may be wise. But wiser still is to listen to what he has to say, and obey.
So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” . . . And [Jesus] said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” (Mark 7:5, 9).
Britain’s House of Commons has traditionally inscribed its laws on parchment. Recently, after 600 years, it voted to use paper instead. The vote wasn’t without rancor. At least one MP protested: “This is destroying a piece of culture, history and tradition for no particular reason.”
I wouldn’t say “no” reason. Parchment costs $45 a sheet. Archival paper only costs twenty cents. At my house, this would be a “no brainer.”
Tradition is often “the way we’ve always done it.” Sometimes, tossing tradition is a good idea. Sometimes not. Jesus wasn’t against tradition – not even in our text. What he was against were traditions that violated the will of God, or competed with that will. Jesus condemned his critics because their tradition got in the way of their obedience.
An obedient faith, practiced over time, becomes a tradition. But it is not just a tradition. In at least three places Paul refers to obedient Christian practice as “tradition” – 1 Corinthians 11:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and 3:8.
Let’s be careful of three things: First, that we never refer to any of our faith practices as just traditions when they in fact have a divine mandate. Second, that we not allow any faith practice that is just tradition to compete with what God has actually said. Third, let’s be careful to make following the will of God the tradition of our lives.