I had to attend a “Spirituality” class last month for work. The hospital I work at cares for patients from all over the world, so it’s really important for us to know how different people define and understand different aspects of culture and religion. At the beginning of the class, the moderator posed this question to the group: Do you consider yourself as more of a spiritual person or a religious person?
“What’s the difference?” you say.
Good question. For the sake of this post, I’m going to use the connotations these words have, rather than their actual definitions. “Religion” is often understood as a set of rules upon which a belief or faith is based. “Spirituality” is a more vague term, emphasizing relationships over rules. Keep in mind that each of these can be practiced to varying degrees and applied to a variety of faiths. That’s what makes this question so difficult to answer – because we all interpret these words differently and practice them at various levels across the spectrum.
In Mark 7:1-13, we’re introduced to two groups of people:
- The Pharisees and scribes
- The disciples of Jesus
What if we posed our question to these people – which groups would they fall into? Better yet,
which group do we fall into?
The Pharisees and scribes were, undoubtedly, the most religious group of people of the time. There are several mentions in the Bible about how strictly they tithed, how well they knew Scripture, how loudly they prayed, and how piously they lived. In all of those accounts, did it ever seem that they were truly living? Their lives were overrun by meaningless rituals to which their hearts clung.
And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” | Mark 7:5
Did you catch that? It took me a couple reads before I noticed. The Pharisees and scribes were asking why the disciples didn’t follow the human traditions passed down to them. Perhaps the question they didn’t ask is more telling.
Notice that these men did not ask Jesus why His disciples didn’t follow Scripture. It was a question that could not be brought against the disciples (though the Pharisees were oblivious, even to that end), for the Pharisees’ focus rested upon a constantly changing, human legacy rather than the unending, solid supremacy of Scripture. In other words, the scribes were looking to faulty human examples who changed over time rather than the unchanging example laid out before them first, in the written Word and second, in human form, through the person of Jesus Christ.
Friends, is this where we are today? Are we running after traditions instead of running after Jesus? Are we looking to humans as our examples instead of looking to our perfect Savior? Do we judge others based on where they measure up on our religious standards? Do we demand others to follow our traditions instead of encouraging them to follow the Word of God?
So many questions. Where do we even start?
How about right here, right now, with us.
The Cloak of Religion doesn’t just make things invisible to observers. Often, it is the cloaked who become victim to the deceptions they shroud themselves in.
So do we fall into the religious, rule-following category? Or do we fall into the spiritual, relational category? Are we like the Pharisees and scribes? Or are we like the disciples of Jesus?
Before we answer the above questions, maybe we should revisit the concept of what it means to be “truly living.” I’m sure most of us would agree that “truly living” would involve much love and joy, a dash of spontaneity, a few ups and downs, learning from mistakes, growing over time, intimacy of various depths and breadths, deep musings, vibrant living, and much freedom.
Now let’s consider this question: Does the above description sound more like what the disciples experienced in their relationship with Jesus over the years? Or does it sound more like the experience of the Pharisees and scribes, as they memorized rules and followed them to a T?
Sounds more like a relationship to me! Scripture tells us how the disciples were mere men – weak men, sinful men – who failed time and time again. But Jesus, in His abundant grace and mercy, patiently forgave them and taught them to overcome the error of their ways. And He did it over and over and over again.
In order to fully know the Lord, we must break free from merely “following the rules,” and become wholly acquainted with the person of Jesus Christ. We must be less like the Pharisees and more like the disciples. We must set aside our traditions, our human examples, our meticulous rule-following and set our eyes on the perfect example of Christ Himself.