From the earliest days of His ministry, Jesus’ harshest words were reserved for the religious rulers, and today’s passage is one of many examples. The religious leaders of His day had turned the Law into something that was complicated and nearly impossible to practice in daily living. Jesus criticized the Pharisees and the scribes for making the Law about something other than justice, mercy, and faith. The Jewish Law (or Torah) was meant to teach people how to love God and love others, but the religious elites took something that should be pure and simple and turned it into a religious contest with complicated rules and impossible standards. In doing so, they brought unnecessary burdens upon themselves and those around them too.
Too many times, we also over-complicate our relationship with God. We falsely believe that following Jesus is all about obeying a bunch of rules: a long list of “dos” and “don'ts.” We might even convince ourselves that we are a “better Christian” if we check off the right boxes or do all the right things. This kind of legalistic faith is not only unappealing to non-believers, but it is the type of religion that Jesus came to turn upside-down.
Instead of our long list of rules or overcomplicated religious requirements, God desires our whole heart. God longs to be in relationship with each of us—and true relationships aren’t built on rules or “quid-pro-quo” demands. God asks us to live justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly in Jesus’ footsteps. We are to practice a simple faith, one of trust in God and compassion toward others, instead of an overcomplicated religion that burdens down ourselves and those around us.