“You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:8, ESV)
In the book of Leviticus, we find the laws concerning ritual uncleanness, vows and clean and unclean foods which Jesus addresses here. Jesus upheld the Law but not the man-made traditions of the Pharisees and their predecessors. Their tradition had set itself above the Law and nullified its God-given intent. The Law was meant to help people to lead lives of holiness by depending on the Lord for mercy and help. Tradition made holiness something man could achieve by performing rituals and following rules.
Religious rules and traditions can be a blessing but they can be also be dangerous. Following religious laws and rules can make people think that just by doing certain acts or not doing others they can please God, get what they desire and, eventually, make it into heaven. This is legalism. Following religious rules is a rejection of God’s authority for it puts us in control. We forget that faith is based on God’s promises as well as His love and mercy, not our performance of pious acts. Rules can be good if they help us grow and enable us to fight off temptation but not if they prevent us from extending love and mercy to others.
Nevertheless it is quite easy to think that following rules can earn us favor with God. After all religious rules are easy to keep and put us in control of our life. Legalism can be quite rewarding for it gives us a sense of growth, of accomplishment. It allows us to exalt ourselves, become proud and self-righteous over our neatly ordered life. Rules are a lot easier to keep that God’s Law, which as Jesus told us, is the Law of love. We cannot carry out the law of love without His help. We cannot love our enemies and those who hate us without God’s strength. That is why we would prefer rules and solid measures that reassure us that we are growing. Rules are easy. Love is impossible without God.