SWH and I use the Grocery IQ app to keep track of our every-growing grocery list. Our phones are synced so that each time one of us updates by either adding or subtracting an item, it is updated, in real time, on the other persons phone. Most days you’ll hear one or the other of us say, “Add it to the list” about some ingredient, household cleaning product, or snack item, the need for which came up in conversation. This sort of addition is presumably OK in God’s eyes, but we hear in both the Track 2 Old Testament and the Gospel lesson that God isn’t too keen on our adding things to his list of commandments.
As Moses prepares the people to receive the 10 Commandments that God has provided for their life in the Promised Land, he warns them not only that they shouldn’t forget what the Lord is requiring of them, but also that they mustn’t “add anything to what I command you.” As Jesus is getting flack from the religious authorities for his disciples’ poor personal hygiene, Jesus reiterates this point, “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
To be fair, the tendency to add rules to God’s law is a natural one. We need to have more rules for a couple of reasons. First, it is almost impossible to believe that God requires so little of us. Jesus sums up the Law in two commandments. Two. TWO! Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength is one, and love your neighbor as yourself is the other. Never mind that these two laws are impossibly to live up to all the time, it is in our human nature to make things even more difficult. We’ve got to know what God thinks about dancing, drinking, card playing, and sex, and if we have time, we’ll maybe consider the hundreds of times God talks about money. So we pile things on and make things harder than they need to be.
Which leads me to the second reason we add rules to God’s list: we need to know who’s in and who’s out. Never mind that God has already been clear that he loves his whole creation, we can’t imagine that God would love them, so we make rules to exclude. Have you noticed that we rarely make new rules for ourselves to live up to, but they always for someone else. Which means we violate Commandment #2 in our pursuit of more rules. Oops.
Maybe this week’s Lectionary offers us an opportunity to get back to the basics of discipleship. Maybe we’d do well to remember that the two Commandments of Jesus require a lifetime of work to accomplish. Maybe we should offer our neighbors (and ourselves) just a bit more grace and refuse to add anything else to the list.