Thirty-five years ago I was pastor in a parish ninety miles south of here, and an ex-priest there loved dropping in for coffee. One day he showed up, all excited. “Tom,” he said, “I just read Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of his temple, and it was powerful. I say, powerful.” Right enough. It is. But let’s turn to the Gospel.
In the past you might have heard me speak about “the traditions of the elders” which are the subject of today’s Gospel. Forgive me for going through it again. The Babylonians enslaved the Israelites from 600 to 530 B.C.. What happened then was that the Persians defeated the Babylonians; and they not only freed the Israelites, they also helped them complete a new temple in 515 B.C..
Even with Persia’s help the Israelites did poorly for the next seventy years. In 545 B.C. the Persian Emperor deputized two Jews living in Persia to go to Jerusalem to straighten them out. The two men, Ezra and Nehemia, found the roads and walls in bad shape, and they found the morals of the Jews in worse shape.
Their novel recommendation to the emperor was that the Jews should take the ancient Law of Moses as their civil law. The Persian lawyers okayed the plan, but they made two conditions. They said that Ezra would have to read the full Mosaic Law to the people, and secondly the Jews needed to take amendments that would bring the law up to date. Ezra and Nehemia accepted amendments that forbade marrying foreigners and buying produce on the Sabbath, and they stipulated the paying of a tax to the temple. Those new laws were reasonable. But, then, with each year and century the priests approved of further amendments. By Our Lord’s time these new laws, known as Mishna filled a whole law of their library. A false assertion came to be made that the Mishna had come down orally from Moses.
Jesus put aside the traditions of the elders that contradicted God’s law, and he objected to there being so many of them that no one could keep them all.
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