Pharisees and religion scholars came to Jesus all the way from Jerusalem, criticizing, “Why do your disciples play fast and loose with the rules?”
But Jesus put it right back on them. “Why do you use your rules to play fast and loose with God’s commands? God clearly says, ‘Respect your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone denouncing father or mother should be killed.’ But you weasel around that by saying, ‘Whoever wants to, can say to father and mother, What I owed to you I’ve given to God.’ That can hardly be called respecting a parent. You cancel God’s command by your rules. Frauds! Isaiah’s prophecy of you hit the bull’s-eye:
These people make a big show of saying the right thing,
but their heart isn’t in it.
They act like they’re worshiping me,
but they don’t mean it.
They just use me as a cover
for teaching whatever suits their fancy.” (Matthew 15:1–9)
For the Pharisees, it was critical that all of the Jewish people obey every one of God’s 613 commandments. So they spent their time discussing those laws and how to put them into practice. They were concerned with figuring out how they should then conduct their lives in every and any conceivable circumstance.
Their problem, however, came from the fact that they all too often ended up looking at the laws in isolation from one another and in isolation from the people for whom they were created. As they decided how they must act in one circumstance, they failed to recognize how their interpretation and choices led them to disobey and miss God’s commands in other areas. In their concern for each tree, they lost sight of the forest. They had focused their attention on the rules instead of the people that God had made them for.
Jesus wants us to understand that to really honor God, there has to be an understanding of what the rules are really all about and what really matters in the larger scheme of things. All too often what we think of as God’s rules wind up being merely “human rules”—and for those “human rules” to get between us and God’s will. Instead of worrying about the rules, God wants us to think about him and to concentrate on one another. If we love God and if we love the people around us, then we will automatically conduct our lives properly, because love does no harm to others.