“You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” (Mark 7:9, ESV)
The Jews of Jesus’ day interpreted the Law of Moses in a way that dictated for them how to live. They cited the 10 commandments as the main source for their rules, but, as Jesus indicated, many of their rules and laws were based on their traditions derived from their rather detailed and meticulous interpretations of what the Law meant and demanded. This, as Jesus pointed out, often allowed them to circumvent God’s law, essentially rejecting God’s authority. They found God’s Law too hard to keep, but their traditions allowed them to manage and control it so that it was doable.
Such rules and traditions are dangerous. Following rules makes people think that religion is matter of their own works. Following religious laws and rules makes them think that just by doing certain acts or not doing others they can please God and make it into heaven. Following religious rules is a rejection of God’s authority for it puts us in control. We forget that God’s law is based on love and mercy, not the performance of pious acts. To neglect love in favor of following rules is to disobey God.
If we look at our lives, we would find that we too have set up our own laws about the Christian life. These rules often deprive us and others of the freedom to enjoy God’s grace. We seek to earn His favor by laws, regulations, observances and lists of dos and don’ts, what a Christian can and can’t read, how a Christian should dress, what kind of music a Christian should listen to. Rules can be good if they help us grow and enable us to fight off temptation but not if we fail to extend mercy to the weak.
Nevertheless it is quite easy to think that following rules can earn us favor with God. After all religious rules are easy to keep and put us in control of our life. They are quite rewarding for they give us a sense of growth, of accomplishment. They allow us to exalt ourselves, become proud and self-righteous over our neatly ordered life. Rules are a lot easier to keep that God’s Law, which as Jesus told us, is the Law of love. We don’t need God’s help to keep rules, but we cannot carry out the law of love without His help. We cannot love our enemies and those who hate us or bother us without God’s strength. That is why we would prefer rules and solid measures that reassure us that we are growing. Rules are easy. Love is impossible.
Perhaps our lives do not reflect the love and power of Jesus because we do not love. Perhaps we, like the Pharisees, have a critical spirit. We condemn those who break our rules ore even God’s. We do not respond with love, mercy and grace but only anger, judgment and angry reproaches. We would rather be right than extend grace. Do you think that it is better to be right all the time? Shouldn’t we rather show love, grace, mercy, to be charitable and compassionate and forgiving?