Pastor Douthwaite gave a great sermon on Sunday, on Mark 7:1-13, in which Jesus chastizes the Pharisees for replacing God’s word with the “traditions of men.” The whole thing is very much worth reading, but I would like to focus on a curious fact that he brought out: the Greek word translated as “tradition” is also the word translated as “betrayal.” The verb form is paradidomi, meaning, literally handed down (as in a tradition) or handed over (as in a betrayal). Pastor Douthwaite then plunged us into a fascinating word study, ringing the changes on all of those senses in a Law & Gospel kind of way.
He began by citing traditions we have (turkey on Thanksgiving, wedding customs), which can end up displacing the true meaning of what the traditions are supposed to be about (Turkey Day as opposed to giving thanks to God; white dresses and the bride’s perfect day as opposed to marriage as the one flesh union between a man and a woman that is an image of Christ and the Church):
Those are examples of when tradition becomes betrayal. And I put it like that because in the Bible, in the Greek of the New Testament, tradition and betrayal are the same word – paradidomi – which means to hand down or to hand over. When something is handed down (paradidomi-ed) from one generation to the next, it is a tradition. When Jesus is handed over (paradidomi-ed) by Judas, it is betrayal. And so traditions – all those things I mentioned before – are good, as long as they do not become betrayals; as long as they do not betray their original meaning and purpose. . . .
You see, because you and me are as we are – sinful and unclean – therefore, the wonderful thing God will do is Jesus. He is (literally) the tradition of God. For He was handed down (paradidomi-ed) to us, the Father handed down His Son to us, that He be handed over (paradidomi-ed) into death for us – death on the cross for our sins – that raised from the dead (for us), we who once walked in darkness (or inside-out and upside-down, as Isaiah also puts it) now live a new life in His light. Living not because of what we do, but because of what our Lord does for us. For you.
Living by what He does for you in Holy Baptism, where Jesus’ cross becomes your cross; where Jesus joins you to Himself and raises you with Himself from the death of sin to a new life in Him. In that water you were born from above to a new life with a new Father and a new heart and a new Spirit. In that water all your sins, all your betrayals, were washed away – the old is gone, behold the new has come. That’s what your Lord hands down and hands over (paradidomis) to you there.
And living by what He does for you in Holy Communion, where Jesus – on the night when He was paradidomi-ed (betrayed) – before He was paradidomi-ed first handed over (paradidomi-ed) His Body and Blood to His disciples and said: keep doing this, keep eating and drinking this, keep remembering and receiving this, for the forgiveness of your sins. That the new life and faith only your Lord can give be fed and strengthened by the food only your Lord can give.
And living by what He does for you when you hear the Word of God – the Gospel of all that Jesus, the wonderful one, has done for you – whether it’s in the sermon or in the words of absolution or in the consolation of a fellow Christian, it is the voice of Jesus you hear, that is being handed over (paradidomi-ed) to you. Not advice, but good news. Not instruction, but the very Word of the Lord that opens the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, that changes hearts of stone to hearts of flesh, and which has done all that for you.
That why St. Paul calls Jesus the good and perfect bridegroom who came to hand over (paradidomi) His life for His dirty, sinful bride, that she – that you and me – may be dirty and sinful no more. It’s all about what He has done, that we may be. It’s all about His cross, His death and resurrection, that we who are born dead in sin may rise with Him. It’s all about His love that we may love. It’s all about His washing that we may be clean. It’s all about His tradition that we may be traditioned; that we receive what He has come to hand down and hand over to us.
And then, having received all that, there is a new tradition, and we begin to see others, those around us – our husbands and wives, our families, our friends and neighbors – as those our Lord has handed over to us, that we not withhold or “Corban” them, but hand down to them, what we ourselves have received. For that’s what tradition is all about, isn’t it? Handing down to others what has been handed down to us. And so the care and love and forgiveness and mercy and word we have received doesn’t stop with us, but is traditioned, paradidomi-ed, handed down. That’s good tradition, right tradition, godly tradition.
And – to turn Jesus’ words around just a bit – and many such things you do. Yes, you. As a Christian. A sinner-saint, forgiven and new. Not perfectly, to be sure. Always repenting and receiving forgiveness. But in Christ, made new. In Christ, handing yourself over – traditioning yourself – for others. That they too may receive what you have received. For that is the tradition we have received from Him.