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Friday, November 6, 2015

Today’s Reading | Matthew 15:1–20

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’ then that person need not honor the father. So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’”

Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.” (NRSV)

Johann Sebastian Bach wrote some of the finest organ music ever written, but it was customary in his time to give no indication about how to play the music. There are no dynamics, no phrase marks. He left only the notes; it is up to each performer to interpret how they should be played.

I had a teacher who gave me his copy of each organ piece by Bach and told me to copy every mark into my score. I was told that these were from a long line of organists that could be traced back to Bach himself, so these revered marks were as “authentic” to Bach’s wishes as possible. But as I listened to other musicians, I realized that no one else played Bach with these marks. Over time I learned that a traditional way of playing Bach had to be carefully considered and based on many sources of information. It had to be passionate and inspire a modern congregation; I was not playing for an eighteenth-century audience and was not using an eighteenth-century pipe organ. The tradition I was handed was important and could inform the way I played Bach, but I had to learn and discover so much more and then merge all these ideas into one interpretation.

Jesus and his disciples had to honor religious traditions, customs, and laws that had been followed for centuries, but in today’s scripture passage, Jesus challenges those traditions as he seeks the truth behind them. Traditions that are blindly followed without any understanding lose their meaning. Jesus wanted to restore the essence of the law, the meaning behind those Jewish traditions. We, too, need to be thoughtful about traditions, always seeking to understand the meaning, the essence of why we do a certain thing. When we understand the meaning behind a tradition, then the tradition can have a transformational impact on our lives.

Dear Lord, help me to value the traditions that guide my life, but help me also to understand them and not take them for granted. Help me, with that understanding, to be changed and transformed into a new creation. Amen.

Written by John W. W. Sherer, Organist and Director of Music

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