Thursday, April 28, 2005

Customs and Traditions

Here's a story I heard some time ago which seems to epitomize the value we as human beings place on customs and traditions. Many years ago, a government official taking a walk, spotted a soldier standing by a rose garden, as if he were guarding it. Approaching the soldier, the government official inquired “Why are you standing here?” The soldier, standing at attention replied, “This is my post, Sir, its the place I've been assigned.” Puzzled, the government official asked, “And why you have you been assigned here?” Unable to answer, the soldier replied, “With all due respect, Sir, I do not question my orders. ... I do not know.” Unsatisfied with the soldier's answer, the government official vowed to find out why he was guarding a rose garden. Returning to his office, the official immediately ordered his assistants to investigate. A few days passed, and still there was no answer, so the archival record supervisor was called. Surely he would be able to find out why there was a soldier guarding the rose garden on government grounds outside his office. Irritated that things were taking so long, the official went to see the archival supervisor for an answer, and this is what he found.

"Apparently, and according to the record," said the supervisor, "approximately a century ago, these government office buildings were part of a rather large royal estate. During that time, a sickly princess abode here, and the rose garden was hers." "Apparently she loved roses." Feeling impatient, the official nearly shouted, “What does this have to do with the soldier?” “If I may continue Sir," replied the supervisor, "I assure you, the story will answer your question.” “Very well, continue,” said the official. “Yes, Sir, I shall." "Because the young princess was gravely ill, she and her parents were admonished by the royal physician that she should not to leave the palace for any reason. The princess, overhearing the instruction, was heartbroken as she loved the palace grounds, the sunshine, and the flowers in particular. She felt that she would not survive if she could not see her beloved flowers, and the roses in the middle of the garden in particular. Her parents, the king and queen, did everything they could to comfort her, but she became quite listless, and depressed. Fearing the worst, at last they hit upon a plan. Since the princess was allergic to flowers, and especially to roses, they knew they could not try to grow the flowering plants indoors. "But what if a rose garden could be planted outside of her window," they asked themselves. So the gardener was called, conferred with, and plans were drawn up to plant the most extensive and beautiful rose garden just outside the princess's window. Months later, the garden complete, only one last detail remained; the protecting of the princess and her newly acquired garden. To ensure this, the king passed a law that a soldier must watch the garden day and night.

"So you see Sir," continued the supervisor, "although the Princess died, the law was never repealed, and therefore it continues even to this day.” Speechless, the Official thanked the supervisor and left the records room thinking, “How many other things are we doing that are no longer needed?” Perhaps we might need to ask the same question of ourselves, "how many things am I doing which are no longer

The answer might surprise us. Customs and traditions are hard to break once internalized, because they help define us as individuals, and strengthen our feelings of belonging. As established boundaries, customs and traditions make it easier for us to know how to behave, and what to expect from others. Handed down intergenerationally, and reinforced by friends and society, customs and traditions are not often questioned. Unaware as to why we engage in these pre-approved beliefs, attitudes or behaviors, we often have no idea as to what led up to them, or even who originated them. What's really strange is that so many of us find meaning and purpose in these traditions, and that we feel that we must protect them at all costs. Its sad that we can be so passionately offended and equally determined to protect things which by their very nature are transitory.

This is the situation we find as we read Mark 7. the Pharisees have time honored traditions and customs which are ceremonial in nature having been delivered through Moses to the Israelites in the wilderness. The purpose of this law was manifold, but centered in bringing to the Hebrew consciousness the necessity of cleanliness, purity and holiness. Unfortunately, the meaning of the ceremonial laws were lost sight of, and through human pride and perversity, the leadership made them a stumbling block to the people. The Priests, Pharisees and Scribes found a loophole to find fault with the disciples, through the mechanism of Jesus not honoring their ceremonial stumbling blocks. Thus, when the disciples ate bread without washing their hands, as was considered customary, the Pharisees promoted confusion and unbelief by calling them 'defiled' to Jesus in the presence of His followers (See Mark 7:2 - 5). The Pharisees' questions disclosed their belief that the tradition of the elders was more important and necessary than the Word of God. In Mark 7 verse 6, Jesus answers them saying:

Mark 7:6 Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.
Mark 7:7 Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
Mark 7:8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.
Mark 7:9 And He said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.
Mark 7:10 For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whosoever curseth father or mother, let him die the death:
Mark 7:11 But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free.
Mark 7:12 And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother;
Mark 7:13 Making the Word of God of none effect through your tradition,
which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.

And many such like things do we. How many times have suggestions to change old customs been met with the infamous, “This is the way we’ve always done it.” And occasionally you may hear, “We don’t want to change.” Yet, those who say they want things to remain the same, are the very same ones who complain of staleness. When we behave like this, its as if we want our cake and we want to eat it too. Just in proportion to our rejection of the True Source of change and growth, will be the strength of our hold onto meaningless traditions. Its just possible brothers and sisters, that in our blindness -- in our inability to see things are they really are without spiritual discernment, we are rejecting the source of light and of life. Without the special work of the Holy Spirit, we may be reinforcing customs and traditions which nullify the Word of God.

The establishment of new practices, traditions and customs to replace the old ways, is not necessarily the answer either. For we may unknowingly establish that which is just as devoid of the Holy Spirit's power and blessing as is what we've left behind. Our real need is union with God, not unity with God (i.e. me and God) but one-ness with Him. And no amount of tradition or custom -- old or new-- can ever facilitate that oneness. It is only found in the yielding of our self-will or self -love to Him. God says, "The Lord is near unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be contrite of spirit," and "...I dwell in the high and holy place with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite ones (Ps. 34:18; Is. 57:15)).

Sister White has said in Desire of Ages that even when faced with a "Thus saith the Lord..." many will choose their customs and traditions, so deeply are they engrained. Brothers and sisters, we cannot hold to things that are unnecessary and outdated any more than we can establish new means to serve old purposes. The Lord is more than willing to draw nearer, and show us the true principles of His kingdom which our traditions and customs have been hiding. He is even waiting and able, to do exceedingly and abundantly more than we could ask or think (Eph. 3:20). Let us choose in humbleness of heart and mind to yield self, and open the door to Him. We shall be ever so glad we did.
Raul Diaz & Maria Greaves-Barnes

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