The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (8/22/2021)

Ps. 14; Isa. 29:11-19; Eph. 5:22-33; Mk. 7:1-13.

Tradition, [T]he Pharisees and the scribes asked [Jesus], “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but with defiled hands?” (v. 5)

There are three great Christian traditions: “The Liturgy” of the East; in the West, “the Mass of the Roman Rite”, and the Lutheran “Common Service” of the Reformation. Among each, exist variations, conflations, crossovers; and abuses where “tradition” is at odds with the gospel it intends to convey.

These “traditions” celebrate Christ, consistent with the church’s apostolic faith for unity and holiness. St. Paul, without commanding particular form, described the congregational response to word and Sacrament at Ephesus:

“[S]peaking to one another in psalms and hymns and songs of the Spirit, singing and psalming with your heart to the Lord, giving ‘Eucharist’ always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to our God and Father, being subordinate to one another in the fear of Christ:” (Eph. 5:19, 20).

The fountainhead of today’s Gospel is St. Mark’s comment about the Apostles, “from hardened hearts [they] did not understand about the loaves [for the 5,000]” (Mk. 6:52).

Apostolic lack of understanding took Jesus to Capernaum to teach of himself as heaven’s Bread of Life in the new creation (Jn. 6:22-69); that in faith we would eat and drink his ascended flesh and blood for Life, making us into his likeness (vv. 51-69).

Jesus’ teaching caused disciples to abandon; returning to the traditions of the Pharisees and scribes, seemingly gaining an upper hand against Jesus.

Nevertheless, apostolic hearts were being converted for comprehending “the loaves”. Peter confessed, “You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (vv. 68, 69).

Once again, (Mk. 3:22; 7:1) Jerusalem scribes, were summoned to bolster the “traditions”. Pharisees modeled daily behavior, their “traditions” to imitate the Levitical priesthood which required ritual washings for temple work (cf. Lk. 10:31-33).

Pharisees thought of themselves as de facto priests; thus, their “traditions” included meal washings, expecting emulation by Jewish laity (cf. Jn. 2:6). It is these “traditions” that Jesus addressed in today’s Gospel.

Of course, lay Jews were not commanded to ritually wash before eating or on returning from the market, a place polluted by the mix of people. Any lay ablution was a matter of personal piety; neither commanded nor forbidden, “adiaphora” (Formula of Concord, Ep. X; FC. SD. X), much as Christians might cross themselves to remind of Baptism, or receive Holy Communion on the tongue or in hand.

The accusation against Jesus’ disciples, for failure to follow “the traditions”, was but an attempt to further wedge, Jesus from his disciples when he said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you” (Jn. 6:53).

Jesus came out of heaven, Torah’s New Covenant revelation. During his ministry he would clarify Mosaic law (cf. Mt. 5:18) and Pharisaic mis-understandings. But NT traditions, grounded in the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection come by apostolic and elder teaching for advance of Christ’s on-going office.

Jesus came for delivery of a New Covenant in his person, of whom OT worship and pieties were but types of the new thing God was doing in Christ. The man Jesus, crucified and risen for the sin of the world, admits nothing of the Old, than fulfillment; where on the cross he declared, “it is finished” (Jn. 19:30).

NT grace is for all; one either rejects standing in judgment before God, or is baptized and fed as new Israel. God’s concluding NT promise is of the Last Day, “the Marriage Supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:7, 9).

St. Paul instantiates the gospel’s end-time marriage by the first creation: “because we are members of [Christ’s] body [which he nourishes and cherishes], ‘therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ (Eph. 5:29-31; cf. Gen. 1:1, 2:24).

God’s marriage between Son and Church ordains both to faithful worship. NT “traditions” support church worship in her marital bond to the headship of Christ, exemplified by husband and wife “subordinate to one another in the fear of Christ” (v. 21b).

Of course, marital “subordination” is asymmetrical, different by distinct offices; a wife’s submission to her husband’s sacrificial service, is gospel, given and received; both voluntarily subordinate to the Father for love of the other, each respecting the other’s priestly office in Christ.

NT marriage, but for infidelity, pornographic unbelief (cf. Mt. 5:32), proclaims indissolubility of heaven’s ordination of marriage. The church is Christ’s helpmate, ordered in love, for God’s family program. In marital bond, neither head nor body is superior; each magnifies the other for unity and holiness.

In the Resurrection the Apostles comprehended “the loaves” to be their Divine Service on behalf of Christ to his Bride; that in their feeding, “the two shall become one flesh”. In the church’s eucharistic distribution pulverizes hearts, obtaining the bride’s forgiveness in brotherly unity.

If one were to characterize marriage as an “extra-church sacrament”; repentant forgiveness between husband-and-wife resulting in procreation; there should be scant objection. Amen.