Summary: God is interested in our character and not in our get out clauses


Story: Many years ago, the well known American Baptist pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick told the story about a church in Denmark, where the worshipers used to bow regularly as they passed a certain part of the wall in the sanctuary of the church

They had done so for three centuries - bowing to a white wash area on the wall.

Nobody could remember why.

One day when renovating the church, they removed some of the whitewash on the wall.

And at the exact spot where the people bowed, they found the image of the Madonna covered by the whitewash.

People had become so accustomed to bowing to the image that, even after it had been covered up for three centuries, people still bowed.

Tradition is a powerful thing.

The Pharisees of Jesus day had learned to substitute tradition, custom, habit for the real thing – the presence of the living God.

And mere traditionalism rears its head in many ways, in many times and in many places.

But it is not the real thing

True Christianity has to do with a relationship with God and not with rules and regulations

And at times - like in any relationship, it can be uncomfortable.

Jesus will challenge us and ask questions about ourselves that we don’t want to answer.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus picks on one of the Pharisees’ practices:

Jesus said to them: 10 For Moses said, ‘Honour your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’

11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother.

13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

There was a good reason why God required the Jews to look after their parents.

After all in those days there was no old age pension and no social system to fall back on

Often the parents would pass on their farm to the children in exchange for the children looking after them in old age.

That was the deal, but the Pharisees had a crafty way out of it – and it looked so “godly”.

But God is not fooled and Jesus called it as it was.

Jesus’ challenge to us is this

If we consider God’s commandments, we can look at them in one of two ways

1. We can follow them to the letter of the law – and like any good lawyer look for the get out clauses.

That’s what Jesus objected to in the Pharisees

2. Or we can look at the Spirit of the Law – and see what God really wants and that is the test of our character.

Story: An American pastor David Chadwell posed a rather interesting set of questions:

1. What sort of neighbour would you like next-door: a person of excellent habits or a person with a good heart?

2. What sort of a good friend would you like: a person of excellent habits, or a person with a good heart?

3. What sort of husband or a wife or wife would you like: a person of excellent habits, or a person with a good heart?

4. What sort of child would you like : a child with excellent habits, or a child with a good heart?

Chadwell concludes:

1. It is wonderful to have a neighbour who conscientiously cares for his property while respecting your property.

2. It is wonderful to have a friend who always treats you with consideration.

3. It is wonderful to be married to a husband who always is thoughtful and courteous, or to a wife who always is gracious in her comments and deeds.

4. It is wonderful to have a son or daughter who shows respect and uses good manners.

As wonderful as those situations are, none of them compares to having a neighbour, a friend, a husband, a wife, a son, or a daughter with a good heart.

When you discuss good behaviour, you are discussing the quality of a person’s self-control.

When you discuss a good heart, you are discussing the quality of the person.

Jesus wants his followers to be first and foremost people with good hearts.

We see in the Old Testament in Jeremiah 33, what the relationship God wants to have with his people

31 “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.

32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand

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