Do I Follow God or Do I Follow the Rules?
Matthew 12:7 I desire mercy, and not sacrifice…
How do I know if someone is a Christian? What does that look like? I have mistakenly thought that what set me apart as a Christian was all the stuff I did not do. I could point to a list of things I refrained from, which I felt set me apart for God. Never mind that I did nothing for God or that I was engaging in hidden destructive behavior. I still pointed to all the sacrifice I had made as evidence of my faith.
This is exactly what the Pharisees were doing, for which Jesus chastised them. The Pharisees caught Jesus disciples picking grain to eat on the Sabbath. They were, of course, technically right in quoting the fourth commandment to the disciples, insisting that they were not to work on the Sabbath.
Their mistake was in holding the rules above God and his intent. In their worship of the rules, the Pharisees insisted that the disciples should starve instead. They did not care that this would inhibit their ability to worship God on the Sabbath. Only the rules matter!
We often do this. We often think the most pious and holy among us are those who live by the strictest rules. He does not drink, smoke or dance. He follows the rules; therefore, he is holy. To this, Jesus says, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice. It is not a list of things we do not do that makes us followers of Christ.
To be clear, Christ does ask me to leave behind the destructive behaviors of self to follow him. He is not giving me the green light to engage in any behavior I want here. He is saying that if I stop at only following the rules, I will elevate those rules to be my god. Then, I will swell with pride in how well I follow the rules.
Jesus insisted that following him meant doing as He did. Following Jesus is not just about following a strict set of rules, it is about showing his love, mercy and forgiveness to others. I can follow the ten commandments my entire life and still be a stranger to God if I do not know his mercy and love. If I follow the rules but refuse to love, I am as guilty as if I just broke all the rules in the first place.
This was a slap in the face to the Pharisees and it is a bitter shock to those who depend on rule-following to define their faith. Faith is not just about what I do not do. I need to show others the love God has shown me or I do not follow him, I just follow the rules.