Friday, May 23, 2014

Legalism is Easier

Image source.

"Be careful," Jesus said to them. "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees."

This week we're reading Matthew 16:5-12, about the "yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees."

Which turned out to be the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The disciples were confused about it, and then Jesus gave them some examples about how much bread they had coming out of their ears in the previous chapters, and they figured it out.

I'm not sure if we're supposed to make fun of the disciples for being so easily befuddled. Please discuss in the comment section.

Anyway, there are 2 things I want to talk about from this passage: legalism and being "led astray."


I believe this was what Jesus was warning the disciples about. He generally gave the Pharisees and other religious leaders a hard time for how they keep little rules while not actually doing anything good in the world. That's legalism, yes?

Some examples:

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother' and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.' But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is 'devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition."

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel." 

"The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’"

But I know why people are drawn to legalism. It's easier.

All you need to do is analyze and make rules and check them off a list. Okay, don't swear. Check. Okay, read the bible every morning. Check. Don't wear a shirt that shows a bit of your bra strap. Check.

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And then judge other people who don't follow the "rules." I mean, clearly you're so much better and more devoted to God than them, right?

It makes God and our relationship with God something that we can control and manage. It makes it all about us- if we can complete certain duties and avoid certain sins, we're good.

We're not supposed to follow legalism. We're supposed to be like Jesus. We're supposed to love. We're supposed to live as citizens of God's kingdom.

How? Well that's way harder to quantify. You can't just make a list and check stuff off. It's not about what you do, it's about the kind of person you are. And perhaps we need God to help us change and become that kind of person.

The kind of person who lives like the resurrection is real and ongoing in the world. The kind of person who deeply believes that God loves every person in this world.

And man, you guys, every week (or, you know, whenever) when I write these posts about Matthew, it's so convicting. Somehow every time, it seems like I come to the conclusion "love your neighbor."

And like, do I do that? I mostly just take care of myself and my cat. I could give some excuses for why I don't have the time/energy to spread the love (I'm in my first real job and I'm busy, I'm living by myself in a foreign country, etc) but remember last week, about the people asking for a "sign" just to put off doing what they already knew they should do... yeah.

So... I decided every day for a week, I'll pray for my coworkers, and also I've thought of a couple friends I should contact to see how they're doing, because you know, I care about them. BUT WAIT. I don't want to make this into more rules.

Where's the balance between legalism and "here are some good things we should probably do because good reasons"? For me, possibly because I have Asperger's, I tend to latch on to the rules and emphasize them WAY too much.

So where's the balance? Discuss in the comment section. ^_^

So, this picture pretty much captures exactly what's wrong with the whole "watch out or you'll be led astray" thing. Image source.

On being "led astray"

When I read Jesus' words to "be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees" of course it reminds me of all the warnings I've heard about being "led astray."

Apparently, our minds are weak and sinful and if we listen to "false teaching" too much, we will believe it and be "led astray" and TERRIBLE THINGS WILL HAPPEN.

You know, you start watching the wrong TV shows, hanging out with people who are a "bad influence," reading books... Next thing you know, you start thinking sin isn't so bad, you start believing all this false religion, doubting Jesus, etc.

So we shouldn't even find out what that other stuff is. We shouldn't listen- we'll be "led astray."

Image source.

Remember "The DaVinci Code"? How many of you read it? Okay, how many of you didn't read it, but you read another book, written in response, about how evil "The DaVinci Code" was?

Umm, yeah. Anybody think it's a little weird that I never actually read the book itself, I just read about how evil it was?

But of course. We can't read it- we'll be lead astray.

And why is it that everything I've ever read about evolution was about how evolution is SO not true? Well, it's so I won't be lead astray, you know. (And I'm thinking it's time for me to hear from the other side.)

Basically, this whole "being led astray" thing means we have to fear new ideas because we can't trust ourselves not to fall for them. Yeah. Who's read a blog post in the past week lamenting how some Christians are just following "what sounds good" instead of obeying the bible? Yeah. Totally led astray.

But I don't think that's what Jesus is saying here, when he says to "be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." I think he's saying don't believe everything you hear. He's not saying you have to run and hide and plug your ears lest you be sucked in to their evilness.

And you know what, "don't believe everything you hear" is a much better idea that completely avoiding certain things while completely trusting other things. (You know, your mind is too weak and sinful so just listen to the "Christian view" on whatever topic and you're good to go.)

Image source.

Anyway, that's all for this passage. If you have any opinions/questions to add, please leave a comment. ^_^


This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: In which Jesus mentions both science and the bible (Matthew 16:1-4)

Next post: The Most Important Question (Matthew 16:13-28)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, legalism, my old friend. Yeah, it's definitely easier to be a legalist. I'm pretty compulsive about rules and regulations too (I love order in general).
    I actually used to emphasize rules to the point of obsessively praying the Lord's prayer (because it's how we should pray, right?). I'd get on my knees in a room (because Jesus said pray alone) and meditate on the meaning of every. last. phrase. (because we're not supposed to pray in vain).
    I'm finally learning to move past this, but it's been hard praying since I've stopped my compulsive rule-following. Like, to the point that whenever I have prayed the Lord's prayer, I have panic attacks.
    For me, the hardest part about legalism is stopping it. Because even though I'm trying, it still bothers me. :P