Jesus speaks of ‘the tradition of the elders’. Earlier he had declared all foods as being ‘clean’ and now he speaks against the rituals of purity which the Jewish elders hold so dear. The traditions of the elders are their own teachings – additions to the Mosaic law which simply confuse the purity of the original teaching, a mass of legal detail which the Pharisees had added to the Torah. These would have been taught by word of mouth from Rabbi to disciple, moving ever further away from God’s truth and purpose. No wonder Jesus was trying to break through them to the heart of God’s intentions.
There are a mass of rules in the opening books of the Bible, rules intended to keep the Israelites clean and safe from harm in a very unsanitised world. But these rules had become divisive separating those who are ‘in’ from those who are ‘out’. Jesus seeks to put an end to this – earlier he declares all foods are ‘clean’ and now he declares that the ritual hand washing and pot washing are superfluous to a true relationship with God. What God desires, is a heart that is clean, a motive that is pure. Let’s face it, the dirtiest hands often belong to those who work the hardest. I wonder how calloused Mother Theresa’s hands were, how much dirt was ingrained in her finger prints through acts of love.
That is the purity that Jesus is seeking, that is the purity which pleases God.
James, believed to be the brother of Jesus, who despite growing up with him, only fully understood his true identity after his resurrection, speaks quite harshly about those who speak profoundly but are unable to fulfil their own teachings with actions. We could call it hypocrisy.
James speaks about being generous in our giving, about being eager to listen to the other’s perspective and slow to anger. James speaks about being thoughtful in our ‘religion’ and above all to care for the orphans and widows in distress – very apt for our times.
It seems to me as if James was speaking into what it means to become a team of churches rather than individual parishes. If we are to be honest, our team of 7 parishes , 3 separate groupings, has struggled to let go of our own needs and identity and to fully embrace what it means to be one team with a single Team Rector: we have not always been generous to each other and each other’s needs, we have often fought our own corner, instead of the common good. We have struggled to work out who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’.
We are currently putting together the paperwork to recruit a third member of clergy to the Team, and I have to tell you that it looks very good on paper – so good I am tempted to apply for it. We have to be careful that we ‘mean what we say and say what we mean’ to quote Alice in Wonderland. Over the past 6 years of the Team’s Conception we have grown closer together, let us continue to do so. Let us continue to be generous and loving towards each other, open in our communication and acting as one, not to fight for our own little corner of England, but for God’s word and truth, the love of Jesus for each and everyone, to be known far and wide.