Three years ago, I took part in a meme called “Five Things I Dig About Jesus.” Not only did I come up with 5 things, but I wrote a post about each one. One of those posts was called “Jesus cares more about people than rituals.” Whenever I think about this, I’m forced to ask myself, “Do I care more about people, or about rituals, structures, plans, things, etc?”
I was tagged by Bryan at “Charis Shalom” to post five things I dig about Jesus. I “dug” this meme so much that I decided to blog through my five things. Number four on my list is that Jesus cares more about people than rituals.
God commanded the Israelites to carry out certain rituals. The most important of these rituals were the sacrifices and offerings. In fact, the children of Israel were required to sacrifice certain animals, food, or drink. But, the prophets tell us something interesting.
According to Isaiah, God did not delight in the sacrifices and burnt offerings. Instead, God wanted his people to “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause”. (Isaiah 1:17 ESV)
Similarly, the prophet Micah rhetorically asks what delights God:
“With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6-8 ESV)
Micah recognized that God required justice and kindness toward others before sacrifice.
In Malachi, God accepts the sacrifices of Israel when they do not lie to each other, when they do not oppress the hired worker, the fatherless, and the widow, and when they do not misuse the immigrant. (Malachi 3:3-6)
God cares about people more than sacrifices and offerings. God cares about people more than rituals. The children of Israel could carry out all of the sacrifices and offerings and all of the rituals required by the law, but those rituals were worthless if they were not treating people properly.
What about Jesus? What did Jesus think about ritual? Remember that many of Jesus’ healings occurred on the Sabbath. Why? Because Jesus cared more about the people than following the rules of the Sabbath. Certainly, these rules were man-made, but they were rituals that the religious people kept. Jesus did not keep rituals in order to be religious. He healed people and cared for people.
But, these were man-made Sabbath rules. What about God ordained rituals? Did Jesus put people before God ordained rituals? Jesus told the man about to offer his sacrfice to first reconcile with his brother. To Jesus, relationships came before ritual. In fact, this parallels with what the prophets taught. Sacrifices and offerings are meaningless if people are not treated with justice and kindness. (Matthew 5:23-24)
Remember also that Jesus used the priest and the Levite – those responsible for carrying out the rituals – as negative examples in the story of the good Samaritan. Many believe that the priest and Levite refused to stop because they would become “unclean” and would not be allowed to carry out their ritual duties. (Luke 10:30-33)
Let’s be honest… there are alot of rituals associated with the organized church. Attend on Sunday and Wednesday… sit down, stand up, kneel… Bow your heads and close your eyes… Read this passage, sing this song, pray this prayer… Put your money here… Rituals.
Are there good reasons for these rituals? Certainly, just as there were good reasons for the sacrifices and offerings. But, people must come before rituals.
Jesus puts us before rituals. His compassion for us does not depend on standing the right way, or sitting just so, or bowing our heads and closing our eyes, or singing well. His love for us does not rise and fall with the frequency of our attendance at certain meetings. Jesus cares more about people than rituals.