What might we find in Jesus’ religion of love that differs from the darkness of worldly, religious thought? 

In Jesus’ words we might discover how trivial and misguided we are. We might find out how stubbornly lost we are.

There is a great example in a Jesus’ encounter with some legalists. We might not think of ourselves as legalistic, but we might also be quite blind when we think we can see. Are you legalistic and unaware of it?

Matthew 15:
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.’”

The Pharisees and teachers had strong ideas about right and wrong. Tradition amplified these ideas. We too, have some generic ideas about right and wrong. We say that you have to read between the lines. We also say that there is an unwritten rule in many instances.

This oral law was regarded by the Pharisees as having equal authority with the written law. It was codified as the Mishnah in the second century. One of its treatises covers details of hand washing, such as how much water is to be used, how many rinsings are necessary, and so on.[i]

The Mishnah was the modern equivalent of all the books and teaching available today that help us understand what the Scripture is saying. The Mishnah took what people were saying and wrote it down. Then the new writings became vital to ‘really understand’ what was meant in the holy book.

Matthew Henry from the late 1600’s gave some insight into this matter of eating with unwashed hands.

Rabbi Joses determined, “that to eat with unwashen hands is as great a sin as adultery.” And Rabbi Akiba being kept a close prisoner, having water sent him both to wash his hands with, and to drink with his meat, the greatest part being accidentally shed, he washed his hands with the remainder, though he left himself none to drink, saying he would rather die than transgress the tradition of the elders. Nay, they would not eat meat with one that did not wash before meat. This mighty zeal in so small a matter would appear very strange, if we did not still see it incident to church-oppressors, not only to be fond of practicing their own inventions, but to be furious in pressing their own impositions.[ii]

Before I rush to blame the people who want me to have more traditional values, I need to ask how have I looked down at others for not meeting the expectations I have for a ‘good Christian’? When have I castigated people who fell short of my lofty standards? I too, have obsessed over some matter of conscience that in the end may prove to be more about my ideas than the love of God.

Jesus is making a very serious point in this message. The ones who were so concerned about the hand washing were guilty of creating loopholes and justifying their own law breaking. Instead of sticking to God’s Law, they matched it up with the Mishnah and concocted a new law that nullified what God was asking of them.

How do we do that? Are there ways that we bypass God’s requirements, because our opinion on matters is easier to live with?

Instead of loving and taking care of parents (God’s law) they found a loophole that allowed them to give the money to the Temple instead. ‘Sorry mom, this money is for God. I can’t help you.’

It’s sometimes easier to do things ‘in God’s Name’ than to actually listen to what God wants. When we idolize ministry and the church, we might miss the heart of God. Go back to the Law and you will find God’s Love there.

[i] Reformation Study Bible notes
[ii] Matthew Henry Commentary