"This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me."
In today's Gospel we have another classic confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees. The Pharisees are upset because Jesus' disciples don't keep their tradition. Jesus is upset because the Pharisees have replaced God's Word with their tradition.
Tradition is big in Catholic circles; bigger than in most non-Catholic ones. But to us, there is a big difference between the Apostolic Tradition (spelled with an upper case T) and various traditions (spelled with the lower case t). It is the latter that are our focus today.
Sometimes we allow our various customs to become our doctrines. We have canonized things like styles of music, dress codes, where we sit in church, and what the church should look like. Any number of these things may be good, but they are simply our traditions, not necessarily God's. They can be changed. In some cases they should be changed. If we're not careful our religion devolves into who agrees with us on these issues. This was what happened to the Pharisees and its how we become Pharisees in our modern context.
This raises a question: just what is it that is at the heart of our religion anyway? Why do we do what we do? To borrow a line from Matt Redman: "It's all about You (Jesus)". We are called Christians because we follow Christ. We seek to imitate Him. We have come to know Him, and so we have a relationship with Him. It's really all about this. The other stuff has varying degrees of importance, but this is at the heart of the issue. Before we can deal with the rest, we need to know that our heart is right with our Lord.
Too many of us make it all about the rules. It's not. It's about the relationship. The Gospel is the divine love story. It is that God created us for Himself, but we were lost to Him through sin. Because of His great love He has redeemed us. We are a mess when He finds us, but He loves us so much that He was truly willing to die rather than live without us. When we begin to grasp some of this love and respond in kind, then we are beginning the road to eternal life. There's more, of course, but it starts here.
The tendency can easily be that the longer we go on, we drift from this core. Now we're caught up in rules and traditions and before we know it, the life has been sucked out of us and we're asking, "What's it all about?" This is why so many have been burned by religion. They either never understood this concept, or they forgot it.
Today, hear Jesus' words afresh. What traditions are keeping us from realizing the intimacy He longs to bring us? Leave the traditions of men, even if they're your own. Renew the first love you had for Him. Then let Him lead you the rest of the way!