As we live in an imperfect society we need some rules and laws to combat the worst forms of evil. Religion has its own sets of rules, but Jesus showed us that if we follow his way, love transcends rules. He was born into a Jewish society which had built up a complex set of rules to moderate and control how people lived their everyday lives. We will see in this article how Jesus broke many of the rules and traditions that religion imposed.
Jesus denounced the religious rulers because they heaped an impossible burden on ordinary people like you and me. To even attempt to allow all the rules you would have to devote your life, become a pharisee. The problem was that in keeping to the letter of the law they omitted to do more important things like caring for other people and promoting justice and mercy.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”(Matthew 23:23 NIV)
In denouncing the religious rulers he deliberately set himself against them so he could teach, and demonstrate a better way.
A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. (Matthew 8:2-3 NIV)
According to Jewish law, if a person touched someone who was leprous, they would become unclean. Why did Jesus touch this leper? Jesus realised that this man’s needs were emotional as well as physical. This man mattered far more than rules and he needed touching! Jesus didn’t disobey rules to be rebellious but to demonstrate that love makes the rule redundant.
Healing on the sabbath
The law said that for one day each week, no work should be done. This was basically good because it avoided employers exploiting their workers. But the rules and traditions had made the law difficult to keep. Jesus pointed out that they were quite willing to save an animal on the sabbath, therefore it was quite reasonable to heal somebody on that day. This really infuriated the religious rulers who sought to kill him.
And a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. (Matthew 12: 11-13)
Sabbath made for mans benefit
Religious rules, carried to the extreme, can just be plain silly. To equate picking a few grains of corn with the act of reaping a harvest is ridiculous. The sabbath day, and the principle of not working that day, was instituted by God for man’s benefit. The religious teachers had tried to define “work” to the nth degree. Rules dictated exactly what you could and couldn’t do, but Jesus was quite content to let his disciples break with rules and traditions to satisfy their hunger.
One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” — Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:23-24, 27 NIV)
Talking to Women
In Jesus’s day it wasn’t considered right for a man to speak to a woman who was a stranger and certainly not one of doubtful character and of another ethic race. But again, Jesus wasn’t going to be tied down to convention when he met a woman at a well in Samaria. They had quite a discussion which resulted in many of that town believing in him as ‘the Savior of the world’.
The scandal of drinking his blood
The old testament Law forbid the drinking of blood.
For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off. (Leviticus 17:14 ESV)
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:54 NIV)
- Overturning the money tables at the temple.
- Eating with “sinners”, people of dubious reputation.
- Not ritually washing hands before eating.
- Jesus’ commitment to non-violence
- Forgiving people’s sins and thus bypassing the temple sacrifices.
Love transcends law
The trouble with laws is that they can only try to do away with negatives. “Thou shalt not kill”, “Thou shalt not Steal”, etc. Love is the opposite to law in that it deals with the positives. You cannot legislate for love or define degrees of love. You cannot pass a law that forces people to love. You cannot define degrees of generosity.
Why did Jesus break all these rules?
- The old testament law was not possible for man to keep.
- Religious rules and traditions only placed burdens upon people.
- Jesus came to abolish the idea of trying to please God through (any) religion.
- When religious rules get in the way of mercy, compassion and justice they should be overridden.
- Jesus didn’t break rules to be rebellious, he broke rules to show that people mattered more than rules.
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ provides the only way we can share in the life of God.
We all need to ask ourselves honestly, “Do I have any religious rules which get in the way of loving God with all my heart, and my neighbour as myself?” and “What would Jesus have to say about religious rules today?”