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Lenten Devotional: Mar. 13

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Today’s texts: Genesis 47:27-48:7; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Mark 7:1-23

Reflections on Mark 7:1-23

Keeping Traditions…

Traditions, traditions, traditions…!  Why are they important?  Serving one of the oldest Japanese/Japanese American Christian congregations in the United States (we are celebrating our 125th anniversary this May), I come across this issue quite a bit.

As a native Japanese person, I admit it wasn’t always easy to fully understand the importance that is placed on the various ‘traditions’ of the Japanese culture for Japanese Americans in the U.S.  Many Japanese natives who visit Japantown and/or have been part of the Japanese American community comment on how these places are ‘more Japanese’ than Japan itself!  From their perspective, the Japanese ‘traditions’ that are kept here in the U.S. seem outdated and somewhat irrelevant.  But I have definitely learned to appreciate the important and necessary role that tradition plays in the identities of people, especially if their racial ethnic identity is not part of the majority culture in which they are placed.  The culture that was brought by the first generation immigrants, by necessity, becomes something that needs to be preserved – in order to preserve their own racial ethnic identity, their human identity.

While traditions are important and necessary things that shape our identities, however, Jesus points out that the meanings behind why we keep them are even more important. Jesus didn’t disregard tradition (remember, he was a practicing Jew, after all) – but he did point out that traditions themselves are not as meaningful if they don’t point to the core values of who we are.  Jesus criticizes the Pharisees and scribes in scripture because the traditions they kept no longer pointed to the reason why you would do them – to honor and worship God.  Instead, they abused the tradition (or lack thereof) to judge others, while forgetting to remember and teach what was at the core.

Perhaps this season of Lent is about putting down our own judgments and reflect deeply into what is at the core of who we are – traditions and all. Do the ‘traditions’ we keep point to who we are and value as followers of Christ? What traditions – both spiritually and culturally – might we take up or give up in order to be more faithful to our God?

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Rev. Grace Kaori Suzuki has been the pastor of Christ United Presbyterian Church, San Francisco since May, 2004. Having lived in both Japan and the U.S. when growing up, she is bilingual and bicultural. She is a graduate of San Francisco Theological Seminary and also has a background in classical piano teaching and performance. She currently lives in San Francisco with her husband and two daughters.

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