Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules. Matthew 15:1-9
There is a safety, almost a comfort, in rule following. You know what to expect. If I avoid ______, I will be highly regarded by my peers. If I sacrifice and do _________, I will be honored by my superiors. The problem is that religion produces a “human doing” not a “human being.” But, that’s not the only problem.
Perfection requires too many rules. We can’t keep up with all of those rules, so we have to pare the list down to one we can keep. Sometimes a group does this for us – a church, religious leaders, a Bible study. As long as we fit in with the group, we feel we’re in right standing with God. But, can you be a rule follower and not a Christ follower?
The Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking one of their rules. Jesus in turn pointed out how the religious leaders had maneuvered things to justify breaking one of God’s rules: honor your father and your mother.
The Pharisees had instituted a practice called Corban. This meant they would designate a portion or all of their assets for God’s purposes. That sounds lofty enough. The problem was now that everything they owned would belong to God once they passed from this life, they were no longer obligated to provide for their aging parents. After all, pleasing God was far more noble than honoring their parents.
Not only were their parents dishonored, they were also destitute. They didn’t have Social Security, retirement plans or 401k’s to fall back on. Their twilight years were the responsibility of their children. But, if their children pledged all of their assets to God, then they were left with nothing.
Which is more offensive: starving parents or unwashed hands? The Pharisees could justify the treatment of their parents, but they couldn’t allow improper hygiene. (For the record, I would opt for honoring your parents and washing your hands). The rules emphasized the unimportant. The rules won’t get you into Heaven.
If you don’t understand rule keeping in Christian circles, hang out with another Christian group or church for a while. What one group would never say, the other group says boldly. What one group would never avoid, another would never partake.
The reality is that most of the rules we worry about simply don’t matter. What rules matter? Well, Jesus gave us the Ten Commandments all over again in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Jesus endorsed tithing (Matthew 23:23). But, above all of the other rules, He gave us two:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40
And, those are all of the rules you need to keep. The rest of your spiritual life depends on your relationship with Christ. He knows everything about you, and He loves you dearly.
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