The WORD in Other Words by Fr Narciso Cellan SVD (Philippines) for Tuesday Week 5 in Ordinary Time
In many African societies or ethnic groups, the obligatory ritual cleansing practice among family members upon the death of a loved one is considered significant. Symbolizing ‘sending away death’ and ‘welcoming life’ into the family, it signifies breaking the curse of loss and grief and embracing hope among the living. It’s about life and the promise of death’s rejuvenating presence around us.
In today’s gospel, Jesus said some pointed words about human traditions and how they have been used to undermine God’s commandment. Not that human traditions are evil. On many occasions, however, they have been exploited to promote and justify self-serving interests. Washing of hands before eating and the purification of cups and jugs and kettles, for example, are observed by the Jews as dictated by tradition, not faith.
Sociologists explain that tradition gives individuals and communities identity part of a cultural heritage. Scholars take issue with traditions that are contrived, did not develop spontaneously, and were introduced primarily as a means of influencing and controlling truth. As products of circumstances, traditions are vulnerable to the passage of time. They change and evolve, some quickly, others slowly. For as long as they can, traditions are perpetuated by rituals and customs. Their influence stays relevant only when they are still responsive to the needs of the people. Their truth remains meaningful for as long as they continue to reflect people’s deep convictions and beliefs. Thus, for a tradition to live on, it must focus not on the ‘what’ or even the ‘how’, but on the ‘why’.
For Jesus, the ‘why’ of religious traditions needs to be centered and firmly rooted in God’s commandment—a commandment of love that must transform and rejuvenate life, is lived out, and not merely ritualized or given lip service to.