It is said, “The devil is in the details.” In many situations, like signing a contract or paying extra for the warranty, the details are very important. But sometimes we can get lost in the details, even memorizing them, giving us a false sense of security. Oftentimes, unfortunately, religion can get lost in the details and those people who think of themselves as “religious” relish the thought that they know all the little details of worship, doctrine, ritual and belief. In this way, religion becomes an “idol” that we control and try to control others.
In the gospel today, Jesus is clearly angry with the scribes, those who knew the details of theLaw, and the Pharisees, the leaders who enforced the Law. They truly got lost in the details and totally forgot the larger reality of mercy, self honesty and sacrifice. They knew each and every law, over 600 of them, and they tirelessly tried to get the people, the faithful, to follow them. All the while, they appeared to exempt themselves from some of the “inconveniences” that naturally arise in following the letter of the Law. In short, they “acted” the part of the devout leader, compelling the lowly ones to bow to their authority.
Hypocrisy is wearing the mask of an actor, playing a role, so that people see and honor the “image” represented by the mask that obscures the real person. Out of all the sins mentioned in the gospel, I venture to say that Jesus was most angry at the sin of hypocrisy, particularly religious hypocrites. I don’t think he ever got truly angry at sexual sins, the ones the church keeps its focus on. Control of people’s lives....
Jesus teaches the importance of the law, of having regulations and practices that give us unity and structure. But we must NEVER get lost in the minutiae of religious laws. They exist for a higher purpose, to expand our hearts and discipline us to sacrifice. Religion is meant to deflate the ego, not enlarge it.
Spirituality needs to be grounded in a healthy and life giving religion, which means being able to see which laws are essential and which ones flexible. When religion gets lost in simply obeying all the laws as if they are all equal in value, it is a religion that has gone very bad.
Our church does not need people playing the part, but disciples, seekers, people who live the message of the gospel by seeing the larger picture. And adapting.