Jesus was harshly critical of the religious leaders of His day, particularly their tendency to make up so many laws. “You would think these Jewish leaders and these Pharisees were Moses, the way they keep making up so many laws!” (Matthew 23:2)
He cautioned His disciples, “…It may be all right to do what they say, but above anything else don’t follow their example. For they don’t do what they tell you to do. They load you with impossible demands that they themselves don’t even try to keep. Everything they do is done for show…” (Matthew 23:3-5)
Jesus warned that these religious leaders “…ignore the important things — justice and mercy and faith.” (Matthew 23:23)
History has a tendency to repeat itself. Jesus’ criticism of religious leadership resonates as much today as it did then.
Following Christ is not easy, but it is harder or impossible when we follow the example of corrupt or hypocritical religious leaders. It may be all right to do what they say, but not to follow in their footsteps. God’s laws trump the laws of men. Don’t sacrifice justice, mercy and faith to a man-made one.
I am not a prophet, nor am I a religious scholar. I do not mean to pass judgment on the religious leaders of today; I leave that to God. Nor do I desire to cast doubt on godly men and women in God’s service; I am grateful. Nor do I mean to undermine the value of church to our lives.
But I question the profusion of so many man-made rules governing the practice of religion. I lament man-made rules that seem to divide us unnecessarily; that stink of corruption and hypocrisy; that turn people “off” to religion; and, that make it harder or impossible for people to have a meaningful relationship with God. I can’t help but sense the work of God’s enemy in this — at the expense of justice, mercy, and faith.
Hypocrisy and corruption by some of our religious leaders will always exist by reason of our human nature. It is our obligation to God and to others who follow our example, not to follow theirs.