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  • Writer's pictureDebra Oaks Coe

Obedience to Exact Rules vs Understanding and Following the Main Message

When our daughter was nearly 4 years old, I walked into her bedroom and saw that she had colored everywhere! Using multiple crayons, she colored on her window, door, carpet, chest of drawers, wardrobe, curtains, and mirror. The bed was especially vibrant. She had colored all over the bedspread, sheets, mattress, pillow, pillowcase, headboard, and footboard. I couldn't believe she had done that.

I asked why she had colored all over her room because I was sure she knew better. She looked at me very puzzled and said, “But Mommy, I didn't color on the walls; you told me not to color on the walls.” I looked around and for the first time I noticed that she had colored on every other surface in the room, but she had NOT colored on the walls.

While that wasn’t the message I had thought I had given her, it was the message she had received. Adults do this too -- they can also focus so much on exact rules that they completely miss the main purpose.

While the Pharisees had God’s word in their sacred scriptures, they struggled to understand His message. They had 613 commandments to follow. The Pharisees made additional manmade rules to “protect” devote Jews from accidentally breaking one of those commandments.

For example, to keep the Sabbath day holy, they created 39 additional rules including such details as the exact number of steps they were allowed on the Sabbath. While intentions may have been good, their manmade rules completely left out the importance of caring for individuals and the spirit and purpose.

The Pharisees believed if they kept their manmade rules with exact obedience, God was obligated to give them blessings. If someone was not “blessed” with good health or suffered in other ways, it meant they had sinned and were undeserving of God’s blessings.

These false beliefs robbed them of their empathy and created a situation where they were doing the exact opposite of God’s commandments. Instead of caring for those in need, they ignored their fellowmen’s suffering, judged them to be sinners, and created divisive us vs them scenarios.

Just as my daughter’s focus on not coloring on the walls caused her to miss the entire point of not ruining household items with her crayons, the Pharisees’ focus on their detailed rules caused them to miss the entire point of many of God’s commandments.

By His example, Jesus clarified that the two great commandments are to love God with all your heart and to love thy neighbor as thyself. By explaining that all the laws hang on these two great commandments, He gave us a way to measure what is most important.

Jesus showed unrestrained compassion and love for people. He spent His ministry healing bodies and minds, delivering captives from rigid beliefs, and set at liberty those who believed they were less deserving of God’s notice. He valued and ministered to those who were seen as deliberately stricken by God. It was precisely those who did not experience themselves as belonging in the religious mainstream that Jesus focused on, spent time with, and defended from others’ criticism.

Jesus showed profound awareness of the importance of social and spiritual belonging. He knew what helps people thrive.

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