“For the Pharisees and the Judeans as a whole do not eat unless they wash their hands all the way up the length of the forearm, upholding the tradition of the elders.” (Mark 7:3)
Jesus healed and taught and fought.
He fought not so much against blatant evil as against the false appearance of good.
Evil always wants to look good.
Jesus especially fought against the false piety of the religious establishment.
It really looks like he fought mainly against respectable religious people.
The awkward truth is that respectable religious people often make life hell for others.
He fought against those performing rituals and following rules and preaching obedience to the letter of the law.
They were practicing religion in bad faith. They were gleaming white on the outside and dead on the inside.
Jesus was what his enemies only pretended to be. And they called him a lawbreaker.
They were legalists. When they saw something written in scripture, they called it God’s word.
They saw that scripture declared certain meats unclean, and they prohibited them.
Jesus saw the same prohibitions, but he declared all foods clean.
Jesus revered scripture, and yet the letter of scripture meant nothing to him—unless it communicated the living Spirit.
The Spirit can and does contradict scripture. The Spirit is God and scripture is only a thing that God made, imperfect like the people through whom it was made.
What is sacred in scripture is the self-revealing presence of God. God is present in the imperfect.
Jesus does not read scripture as a lawyer but as a child listening for the voice of his Father.
Legalism never hears God’s voice. It only worships the traditions of men.
To be clear, respect for the law isn't legalism. Law is a tool that helps maintain order. We must respect it.
And legalism isn’t morality. A legalist will immorally follow rules even if it means wronging their neighbor.
Either laws enforce our neighborly love, or they must bow to the higher Law.