If you are a fan of Harry Potter, one character that was really annoying (especially if you are a kid) is Delores Umbridge, the sadistic rule making character that served as High Inquisitor and Headmistress at Hogwarts. Her solution to every problem was to maintain control, which she did by creating an endless collection of rules, so numerous that the wall upon which they were hung collapsed under the sheer weight of the tablets upon which the rules were written. By creating these numerous rules, she was able to maintain to control over the students at Hogwarts, the wizardry school that Harry attended. The problem was the rules did not liberate, allowing a person to live more fully as a human being. Rather, they enslaved, causing a person to become more resentful of the rules and finding ways to avoid having to follow them.
There are some people who come to view religion as simply a collection of arbitrary rules. And there are some religious leaders who in fact enforce such a view. The problem is that is not the type of religion that Jesus invites us into during our lives. It is not a religion simply designed so that we will follow a seemingly endless set of rules, but is rather a time where we are invited into a relationship with Jesus. To be in such a relationship does mean that we must live in a certain way, but not because we are primarily afraid of breaking a rule, but rather because we see the loving relationship requires us to live and act in a particular way because of the one we love.
The Scribes and Pharisees could not understand, or were unwilling to understand, a religion expressed in this way. It was easier to worry about paying tithes on mints than on loving all humans created by God. Worrying about these tithes, and rules like it, became more important than the purpose any authentic religious rule has: to grow in justice, mercy and faithfulness. And to worry about these more weighty parts of the Law of God, means that our lives have to become aligned with God’s way. Or, as Paul writes in the first reading, not trying to please men, but rather seeking to please God.
The applications of this way of seeing religion are numerous. Parents who help their children to be generous are seeking to provide this view of life, and ultimately of God. Spouses who have before them the pathway to holiness and seek to make themselves and the other more holy, understand this. Teachers who can balance appropriately the mercy that is necessary with the accountability that allows for learning are able to witness to the “weightier parts of the law.”
I think it is for this reason that Paul refers to the Law as leading to condemnation, while the pathway to salvation is in relationship with Jesus. While Jesus has “rules”, they are always to be set in the context of a loving relationship with him. And failure to see the love of God, the warm invitation of Jesus, means that rules can be reduced as something we follow only to give ourselves satisfaction, and to show that we might be more important than others. So today, clean out the inside of the cup by inviting Jesus into your heart.