One of the biggest mistakes of the Pharisees was to follow religious performance to the detriment of spiritual relationship. They thought that spirituality is all about something to do with what was written down by human beings. In fact, they almost perfected that task-oriented impersonal religion. It was their obsession to the last detail that undid them instead. For them, non-conformity equalled violation of God’s will.
Jesus had to correct that and challenged their false religion that led His people astray. Jesus wanted to help them to turn away from being addicted to follow the Law and to lead them back to the Lawgiver. God’s law only makes sense when they have a true relationship with the One who gave it. Moreover, simply following the Law did not save them: only grace would. Law only showed more and more that the more they try to follow the more they would fail.
So, Jesus summarised the Law masterfully in terms of love (Matthew 22:37). He brought them back to the Shema, the call to worship which every good Jew would know. Hearing the Law about God being One has to have the follow through of loving Him with ALL their heart, soul and mind. Nothing short of that will do for on these “depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40).
The Church is the authentic community brought to life by God’s grace, not by God’s Law. Unfortunately the Church today fails to live out that authenticity as though grace didn’t matter. When God’s word is not taught faithfully; when the people of God do not hear and do; and when past traditions bind us down; the Church becomes a burden and a stumbling block (1 Peter 2:8) instead of being the Living Stone that God has intended.
Today, we, as the church, need to re-discover afresh God’s grace and faithfully remove the stumbling blocks so as to become the foundation stone for the building God has always wanted. By all means, fill the church with good liturgy, great hymns, and meaningful prayers. But we too need to fill the Church with people living out God’s unchanging word; compassion to reach out with love; and with gracious behaviours that act as magnets and honey to the wandering souls around us. It is the only way the Church can be the Church.