By Neil Anderson
Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness
The Talmud , a collection of ancient rabbinic writings, relates the story of Rabbi Akiba, who was imprisoned. Rabbi Joshua brought him some water, but the guard spilled half of the container. There was too little water to both wash and drink, and Rabbi Akiba faced the possibility of death for lack of water if he chose to use the water for ceremonial washing. He reasoned, “He who eats with unwashed hands perpetuates a crime that ought to be punished by death. Better for me to die of thirst than to transgress the traditions of my ancestors!”
Jesus responded harshly to such reasoning: “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:24). The Lord cautions that the weightier matters of the law (such as justice and mercy) are overlooked when attention focuses on strict observances of religious practices. This leads to a corresponding negligence of the eternal laws of God. Jesus told people to pay more attention to cleansing their hearts and not be like their leaders who cleanse only their hands.
The laws of God are liberating and protective. They are restrictive only when they protect us from the evil one. The rules of any institution should ensure the freedom of each individual to reach his or her God-given potential. They should serve as a guide so we don’t stray from our purpose, and they should protect us from those who abuse the system.
The principle that Jesus modeled could be stated as follows: If people are commanded to follow a traditional practice that makes life more difficult and no longer contributes to the purpose of the organization, then we must not participate as a matter of religious conscience. Jesus simply didn’t observe such traditions, and He defended His disciples for not observing them as well.
Prayer: Thank You for reminding me, Lord, that the law kills but the Spirit gives life. Help me walk in that freedom today.