“Sing to the Lord a new song” Ps 96).
Jesus criticizes the scribes and Pharisees for making God seem inaccessible. They are self-appointed gatekeepers who devise complicated rules, rituals and systems of thought only they understand and control. They fail to find God for themselves and in turn prevent others from finding God. Jesus’ own teaching was that God was already intimately present to everyone, loving us first and showing mercy on sinners. If he was right, official representatives of religion were out of a job. Everyone can go directly to God.
Religion and effective pastoral leaders can serve to facilitate and welcome people. Houses of worship, simple ritual and music give regular structure to our prayers within community. Personal prayer is aided by icons, candles, incense, special blessed objects that remind us of our commitment to spend time with God, reflecting on the mysteries of the life of Christ and the faith of Mary and the Saints.
What Jesus objected to were those who put barriers and burdens on ordinary people who were sincerely seeking God. The Good News he preached was that God was seeking us. St. Paul understood this well when he wrote: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39).