I like to follow rules. Recently I went to a Celtics game with some friends. My friends have season tickets located right where the Celtics leave the court to go into the locker room. As the players walk by sometimes they will high-five you. I got a bit nervous to stick my hand out because I thought the players might not want to high-five me back. I was talking about this to my friend’s son before the game. He told me that when they don’t high-five him back, he just taps them on the shoulder when they walk by and he encouraged me to do the same. So, that is exactly what I did when a particular player walked by and didn’t acknowledge my hand. When I patted his shoulder, the security guard stepped forward and said, “You are not allowed to do that.” I immediately jumped away and put my hands behind my back so I wouldn’t break anymore rules. I hate the feeling of breaking rules.
The Pharisees liked rules too. They liked to make up rules, follow rules, and make sure everyone else followed the rules. In Matthew 15 the Pharisees are watching Jesus and his disciples closely. Big crowds are following Jesus and the Pharisees are getting anxious. They are so stuck on following the rules they even miss out on the miracles happening right before them. They confront Jesus, and tell him that his disciples are unclean because they didn’t wash their hands before they ate bread. I wonder what their real motives were. Were they really worried the disciples were unclean? Did they feel threatened by Jesus’ authority? Did they feel better about themselves because they followed the rules? Whatever their motive was for following the rules, they were off because Jesus responds to their confrontation by confronting them.
Jesus responds to the Pharisees by telling them that they break God’s commands for the sake of their own rules. In verses 7-9 Jesus calls them hypocrites because they say the right words, but their hearts are far from God.
After reading this passage, I am reminded how easy it is follow rules but find that my heart can still be far from Him. It’s funny how I can find comfort in following rules in my relationship with God. My intentions seem good, but somehow they get twisted when my focus becomes looking good on the outside, instead of developing my relationship with Him. What is also scary is that I find myself judging others who don’t obey the rules I think they should be following. I can get so focused on other people’s problems, that I easily lose sight of my own sin. I like to feel good about myself and when I look at others sin, I don’t have to look at mine.
I have incorporated a time of daily confession into my prayer life. It has allowed me to look at the state of my own heart, which is not always fun. It helps me live in the reality that no matter how many rules I think I’m following, I am desperate for Him to cleanse my heart. I am amazed at how many things He has brought to my attention that needing dealing with. So, during this time, I continue to beg Him to change me and find myself praying with David at the end of Psalm 139, “Search me and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.”