This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
In vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines human precepts.
You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition."
The philosopher John Macmurray points out there are two ways human beings avoid the anxiety that comes with freedom. Anxiety is born of knowing every act has consequences, foreseen and unforeseen, desirable and undesirable; and that every act is final and decisive. It cannot be undone. I might be able to reverse the consequences of an act but I cannot change the fact that it happen.
Realizing the finality of our acts and suffering the anxiety of such power, we create habits. Because doing something in a certain way produces the desired effect, we do it repeatedly until it’s habitual, almost mindless. We’d never get anything done if we had to solve the problem of how it’s done repeatedly.
Secondly, we avoid the anxiety of freedom by conformity. If everybody does it this way, it’s probably a good idea. If someone challenges my decision, I can appeal to conformity and tradition. “We always do it this way.”
When the Messiah appeared as the fulfillment of Jewish expectation, he met the obstacles of habit and conformity. Confusing security with freedom, which are opposites, they could not feel the anxiety that longs for satisfaction. They were like a man who comforts himself with a photo of his wife while she is away. When she returns he is so attached to the photo he can neither recognize nor welcome her. Who needs a real wife with all the complexities of relationship when a virtual person will do?
"For freedom Christ set us free!" said Saint Paul as he urged his disciples to avoid the traps of the old religious securities. Gentile converts could not become old school Jews; they had to become Christians in the Way the Lord had revealed -- a Way whose future was uncertain.
As we struggle to introduce our youth to the Way of the Lord, we need not cling to the human traditions of any particular culture. No human language can express perfectly the Kingdom of God; no culture enshrines God's ideal. Nor can we rid ourselves of every trace of a particular culture as we strive to create an ideal religion. Rather, we allow the Holy Spirit to speak with new signs, symbols and words the ancient mysteries of our faith. And we watch with gratitude and delight.