Mercy over tradition

So the priest gave him the consecrated bread, since there was no bread there except the bread of the Presence that had been removed from before the LORD and replaced by hot bread on the day it was taken away.

1 Samuel 21:6

Sometimes, we can get a bit hung up on ritual and tradition.  All societies have their traditions, which people try and adhere to for whatever reason – normally because they are tradition.  In my view, that makes tradition a self-perpetuating loop – we end up doing something because we’ve always done it that way, and so, in the name of tradition, we continue to do it that way.  Tradition becomes our overriding concern.  Tevye, in the musical Fiddler on the Roof, tells how the people of his village always cover their heads and wear a little prayer shawl to show their constant devotion to God.  When asked how this tradition started, he admits that he doesn’t know!  He goes on to say that because of their traditions, though, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do.

Jesus, in our current Mark Marathon article, is castigated by the Pharisees when his disciples pick some grain to eat on the Sabbath, which they believe is against the rules.  Jesus, however, is not so hung up on this rule – he tells how David, when he was hungry and in need, ate consecrated bread, which was only lawful for priests to eat.  David is shown mercy by Abiathar, the high priest, who gives him the bread to eat, which was, strictly speaking, against the rules.  Abiathar recognizes, though, that there are times when some rules can be bent, and when presented with a man in need of food, he recognizes the importance of mercy over tradition.  Providing a man with food to eat is more important to him than keeping the consecrated bread sacred.

The fact that Jesus cites this story when confronted by the Pharisees shows that he supports Abiathar’s decision.  For Jesus, too, showing mercy to those in need is of prime importance.

Let us try and be merciful to all those whom we meet today.

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