Religious and Critical
Have you ever felt you are being watched? It is a simple fact that Jesus and His people are more noticed than you think. If you are learning how to live the Jesus way - people will definitely be watching. Following controversy about Jesus forgiving sins (Mark 2:1-12), eating with unholy people (Mark 2:13-17), failing to demand fasting of His disciples (Mark 2:18-22) – Jesus was under close scrutiny wherever He went. He was a significant threat to the religious establishment, but the crowds loved Him because He healed the sick and exorcised the demonised. So, wherever He went, priests, religious academics and lawyers were looking for a way to discredit Him in the eyes of the people. Eventually they looked for a way to kill Him because His teaching and miracles attracted the people disturbing their power-base (Mark 12:12). They were envious of His power and authority (Mark 15:10).
One Sabbath the Pharisees, who prided themselves on their legal interpretation of the Old Testament, were delighted to see, or hear reports of, Jesus and the disciples picking out some ripening grain at the margins of the fields, rubbing the grain in their hands to remove the husk, and eating the kernels. Just a few grains could be satisfying as they swelled inside their stomachs making them feel full. The religious lawyers claimed that they were harvesting and winnowing which was work forbidden on the holy day (Exodus 34:21). It was a foolish claim, and anyway Deuteronomy 23:25 allowed hand plucking as a way of providing for the poor, like gleaning (Leviticus 23:22).
Legalism may seem right and holy but easily pulls people away from a relationship with Jesus into a vague space of mystery and ritual (Mark 7:6). The key to relation-less religion is the belief that by doing or not doing something, we please God and earn credit with Him. That is false because we are all sinners (Romans 3:10-12, 23) and there is nothing we can do to make ourselves acceptable to God (Galatians 2:8-9). Religion, outside of Christ, always invents rules that God had never intended. It is easier to keep little rules, than to submit ourselves in penitence to God. So, when Jesus and His disciples did not obey religious micro-rules, the wolves were out, baying for His blood.
When unbelieving moralists start to be critical, be encouraged – it means they are watching you. Your genuine faith poses a threat to them. Although moralists come in all shapes and sizes - they all sincerely believe that they can be good by keeping the rules. Sincere but wrong! We can never be good like that: we even choose to break our own rules - let alone God's. That is why we need Jesus, who loves us as we are and wants to save us ... from a life of spiritual and moral failure (despite all our little rules and good intentions). It is a challenging message to give to our friends and colleagues, but it is the only one that will get them into His Kingdom. So, when the negative comment comes, let it spark the Jesus-conversation that could change somebody's life for ever.
© Dr Paul Adams