Fr. David's Lent Reflections Day 26
Day 26: 29:13-23
Here we come to the 26th day of our Lenten journey, God bless you as you travel the path to the Cross and to our Lord’s resurrection. Our reading from scripture is Isaiah 29:13-23.
And the Lord has said, This people draw nigh to me with their mouth, and they honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me: but in vain do they worship me, teaching the commandments and doctrines of men.
(Let me stop here right away. This passage from Isaiah is familiar to us from St Mark’s gospel (7:6). In the gospel, our Lord is challenged by the Pharisees concerning the way that the disciples did not wash their hands according to a specific tradition. They were referring to a ritual washing of hands done by the priests before the sacrifices in the temple, a ritual that scholars believe involved not only washing, but washing in a particular way, by scrubbing each hand with the fist of the other hand [the original word in the gospel is πυγμῇ, in verse 3, which means “fist”]. This liturgical tradition of the priests had been adopted by the Pharisees (there were no Pharisees who were priests), who washed in the same way anytime they ate. Which is a good idea, but that’s besides the point. The Pharisees then judged anyone who didn’t follow this tradition to be a bad Jew, and so everyone started doing it. The reason the disciples didn’t do it isn't explained; however, it’s not impossible that our Lord wanted to teach about the traditions of men by rejecting this particular tradition.
Sometimes we Orthodox Christians might find ourselves attacked on this basis, since we’re the part of Christianity with the most traditions. But there is a very big difference between the traditions of men as described by the prophet Isaiah (and used by St. Mark) and tradition as practiced by the Church. Are all traditions bad? After all, every Christian embraces the tradition of recognizing four gospels as holy scripture (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) - is this wrong because it’s a tradition? The secret is in the first part of this section from Isaiah: “people draw nigh to me with their mouth, and they honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” The traditions that help us honor God are like roadways that the Church gives us to go from where we are to where we want to be, where God wants us to be. The traditions of men are the meaningless detours that keep our hearts far from Him. To go on with today’s reading:)
Therefore behold I will proceed to remove this people, and I will remove them: and I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will hide the understanding of the prudent. 15 Woe to them that deepen their counsel, and not by the Lord. Woe to them that take secret counsel, and whose works are in darkness, and they say, Who has seen us? and who shall know us, or what we do? 16 Shall ye not be counted as clay of the potter? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Thou didst not form me? or the work to the maker, Thou hast not made me wisely? 17 Is it not yet a little while, and Lebanon shall be changed as the mountain of Carmel, and Carmel shall be reckoned as a forest? 18 And in that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book, and they that are in darkness, and they that are in mist: the eyes of the blind shall see, 19 and the poor shall rejoice with joy because of the Lord, and they that had no hope among men shall be filled with joy. 20 The lawless man has come to nought, and the proud man has perished, and they that transgress mischievously have been utterly destroyed: 21 and they that cause men to sin by a word: and men shall make all that reprove in the gates an offense, because they have unjustly turned aside the righteous.
22 Therefore thus saith the Lord concerning the house of Jacob, whom he set apart from Abraam, Jacob shall not now be ashamed, neither shall he now change countenance. 23 But when their children shall have seen my works, they shall sanctify my name for my sake, and they shall sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and shall fear the God of Israel.
Indeed. When children see the works of God, they believe in Him. Those who think themselves wise, worldly, adult-themed, the pursuers of the things that are done late at night; they seek to keep children away from the works of God, so that they might remove belief from everyone and feel less guilt. When I ask people about what they’re doing, and they tell me it’s complicated, sometimes I suggest they describe what they’re doing (or what they’ve done) to a child. When it’s difficult to describe to a child why you’re doing something, ask yourself if you should be doing it in the first place.