One of the wonderful things about Jewish writings is the tendency to playfulness. In the Jewish scripture, when the King wants to build God a temple, God says in so many words, “Why would I need that?”
Certainly worship is a big part of the Jewish tradition, but they are quite aware that they aren’t doing God any favors. In fact, a religion of worship that does not work for justice is depicted as repugnant to God:
“Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
The Message paraphrases Isaiah 1:13-14 as:
Quit your worship charades.
I can’t stand your trivial religious games:
Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings-
meetings, meetings, meetings-I can’t stand one more!
Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them!
You’ve worn me out!
I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion…
To be sure, the words are a bit tongue and cheek, but they are reminder that prophets were harder on religion than most atheists could ever think of being, not because it is wrong to worship, but because radical and universal love are the one worship a loving God would seek. James put it like this:
The worship that God wants is this: caring for orphans or widows who need help and keeping yourself free from the world’s evil influence. This is the kind of worship that God accepts as pure and good.
Worship as awe and gratitude for the gift of being is a wonderful thing. But it is very easy for religious worship to untether from nature and life and come to focus on imaginary things. The Jewish prophets had a way of reminding us that if God is love, the highest praise we can give is to love one another. So when worship became selfish, magical and pretentious, the writers of Jewish scripture with wonderful irony had God say, “Hey, don’t do me any favors!”
One reason that Jesus was executed was because he tried to teach his fellow Jews that they need not perform all the rituals that the temple priests required the the baths. The priests made money from each ritual. A separate price was charged for each ritual from every person. This was what made Jesus so angry when he overturned the tables in the temple. The temple priests were made very wealthy from the people paying these many costs of worship.