Imagine being an observer at a family argument. Maybe some of you have been. Frequently family arguments erupt when one member, or faction, within the family want to head off in a different direction. The protagonists may well be newer or younger members of the family, who see the world through a different lens.
The problem with being on the sidelines, watching, is that at some stage the uncomfortable feeling begins to emerge that you may be forced into choosing sides. And, this is what the story from today's gospel reading is all about. The disciples are put into a position where they are forced to witness a face off between Jesus and the Pharisees, the guardians and elder statesmen of the Jewish faith. And, the Pharisees are not impressed with Jesus and his table manners! What seems like a small incident then erupts into the mother and father of all arguments; the normal pattern for all family arguments! The Pharisees reprimand Jesus and his followers for failing to keep the Jewish purity laws, but the bigger criticism is that Jesus and his friends are playing fast and loose with the tradition. The tradition is of course built around a specific 'understanding' of Scripture.
Jesus then erupts, accusing the protectors of the tradition of being hypocrites. His accusation is savage. He says to the guardians of the faith that you know full well what the real tradition is, but that you have chosen to manipulate it for your own political and selfish ends. You are hypocrites. Your hypocrisy is also made even worse by the fact that you know how to manipulate the tradition to make it look as through you speak for God, when you don't you simply speak for yourselves. He gives an example to validate his claim:
He tells the Pharisees that by claiming all of their assets are Corban, offerings to God, they are deliberately using a religious concept, to create a loop hole and break the mandate to honour their fathers and mothers. Jesus criticism is in fact even deeper than this for what he accuses the Scribes and Pharisees of is not only hypocrisy but the deliberate and political manipulation of Scripture. Heresy in other words!
So what has Jesus to say about Scripture, which he clearly esteems and believes contains everything necessary for instruction into how to live a good and Godly life?
Jesus reminds us that Scripture contains the commandments of God and, that the commandments of God are concerned with how we treat each other. Real faith is evidenced not by what we say, and how we say it, not by the rituals we keep, and the doctrines we espouse but in how we live our lives; how we relate to each other.
Are love and service our central concerns? How serious are we about hospitality, healing and the dirty work of holiness – these should be our gospel concerns.
We can manipulate Scripture and invoke the tradition to endorse all manner of claims, but this is to misuse Scripture and to fail to understand the tradition we have inherited. Jesus' own understanding of Scripture is based largely on the prophecy of Isaiah with it's emphasis on justice and liberation of the oppressed, the lonely, the marginalised, the excluded and the poor; hospitality for all.
These were Jesus' real preoccupations, and he didn't just pluck them from nowhere. He took them from Scripture and he urged his followers to make sure that the tradition should never be used to avoid the real mission of the church.
So, as always when faced with family arguments we come back to the question: whose side are you on? I hope and pray that we are on Jesus' side, Amen.