“At that time Jesus exclaimed: ‘I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike’” (Mt 11:25).
Why did the wise and the learned, referring to some of the Sadducees, Pharisees and scribes, reject Jesus? One possibility is that Jesus challenged their idol of tradition. Even though Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (cf. Mt 5:17), the invitation to go deeper was and continues to be challenging. This is certainly highlighted in the six antitheses that Jesus shared during his Sermon on the Mount. Here is one such example: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil” (Mt 5: 28). Offer no resistance to one who is evil? Not only hard to swallow for people of Jesus’ time, but for us today as well.
Jesus offered then and continues to offer us today the intimacy of the Trinitarian Love of God shared between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To be fully alive, to share in his Love, we need to resist being governed by holding blindly on to tradition for its own sake. Instead, we need to be open to growth, change, and renewal. Gerhard Lohfink, in his book, No Irrelevant Jesus, quotes the Polish philosopher Leszak Kolakowski: “A society in which tradition becomes a cult is condemned to stagnation; a society that tries to live entirely through revolt against tradition condemns itself to destruction” (Lohfink 2014, 2).
Many have left the Church because they feel we are too steeped in tradition, rules, and laws, but in their throwing the baby out with the bathwater, they have no secure ground or foundation, no anchor in their life. Others remain hunkered down entrenched in a bunker of tradition fearing the secular tide, holding on to tradition, not to Jesus. Both tendencies weaken us because we are choosing our self over accepting Jesus’ invitation to let go and enter into the living stream of the communal Love of the Trinity we can then share with one another.
Jesus sees our selfishness, our shortcomings, and our weaknesses, while at the same time, he sees the potential and unique charism present in each one of us. He meets us where we are, as we are, in our present condition, and from that starting point, he invites us to crawl, then to walk, to run, and eventually to fly – to experience and share the experience of his unconditional Love.
We will be better off resisting the extremes of rejecting tradition altogether or idolizing tradition alone, but instead build on the foundation we have been given: Jesus Christ: “The Way, the Truth and the Life” (cf Jn 14:6). Within the life of the Church, “we must not do away with its traditions, but at the same time, it must continually clarify, renew, and deepen them” (Lohfink 2014, 2).
Entrusting ourselves to the Holy Spirit and asking him to burn away those small “t” traditions that keep us from God, will reveal to us those capital “T” Traditions, that which remains from his purifying fire of Love. In this way, we may come to know that which in reality is the foundation of our identity that leads us to become people of integrity. We do not want to become stagnant pools unwilling to grow but to continue to drink from the spring of eternal life; receiving that which Jesus teaches and reveals, learning, and putting them into practice so as to be continually renewed and transformed.
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Lohfink, Gerhard. No Irrelevant Jesus: On Jesus and the Church Today. Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2014.