Breaking the Law
August 22, 2010
Chris O’Rear, M.Div., M.M.F.T.
I am a person who likes to keep the rules, I feel like things go better in general when people keep the rules. It annoys me (and sometimes angers me) when people blatantly and flagrantly just disregard the rules and the norms and put others at risk or cause others harm. Rules are there for a reason. They are there to help protect us and to make life easier or better. I was recently in Haiti where there seem to be very few traffic laws. I have to say, I am very glad someone else was driving us around because I would have gone crazy trying to deal with that traffic. Most of the roads are not paved and there were big pot holes everywhere, so cars and motorcycles go speeding down the road weaving back and forth across the road dodging the potholes and narrowly avoiding head-on collisions regularly. Where we were, there were few traffic signs or signals and when they did exist, they were blatantly ignored. Every intersection was a fight for survival and threat to life and limb. In short, it was sheer chaos. So, when we try to play loose and free with the rules and the laws it really does seem to threaten the stability of society. Things are better when we obey the laws.
This is exactly the feeling and the mentality of the leader of the synagogue described in our gospel reading this morning. While teaching in the synagogue, Jesus took a moment to heal a woman who had been crippled by an illness for years. The leader of the synagogue does not seem to be angered because Jesus healed the woman, but because he healed her on the Sabbath. Of course, this person - the head of the Synagogue - was responsible for the order in the synagogue. This person prepared for worship in the synagogue. This is the person that was responsible for what was to happen in the Synagogue and Jesus had just threatened one of the most important rules for the Jewish people – the rule of the Sabbath. We can assume that that this man feared that if Jesus, and others, began disregarding the rules of the Sabbath, then the structures of faith and society could be called into question and foundation of society itself could be threatened. Maybe you think that is a bit absurd, but I am not so sure that this man wasn’t acting from thoughts pretty much like this.
The difficulty with this thinking in the story is a bit easier for us to see because we have years of perspective and the teaching of Jesus, but Jesus has to spell it out for this man. He had become too focused on the wrong laws. Earlier in Luke, Jesus had a confrontation with other religious leaders and had said to them that they focused on many details of the law, but they had neglected “Justice and the Love of God” (Luke 11:42). He told them that they should have practiced more of THESE things. This is probably why Jesus calls this man, the leader of the Synagogue, and those like him, “Hypocrites”. They focused on many many laws, but they missed the point of the law. Jesus noted that these people would allow a man to free an animal on the Sabbath because of concern for the animal, but they gave him a hard time for freeing this woman – this child of God – from her debilitating illness on the Sabbath. Wasn’t this woman more important than an ox or a donkey?
Jesus seems to call us to focus on a different law – or at least to not lose sight of why we have the law. The law of God is to help us in our relationship with God and our relationship with others. The law of God is to help us in practicing Justice and embodying the love of God for others. We should be focused on the law that helps us in these things. But doing so can be difficult.
As we see in the life of Jesus, following these laws of love and justice do not always fit with the laws of the land or the cultural expectations. When we follow THIS law, others may look at us oddly. This is like a couple of years ago, when my mother and her husband decided to take in a man who had a mild mental illness and was dying of cancer and let him live with them because his family had forsaken him. My brother and sister and I thought my mom had lost her mind. Many others looked at her oddly and questioned why she and her husband would do such a thing, but my mother and her husband kept Joe at her house and cared for him for almost a year, until he died of his illness.
When we follow this example of Jesus, others may not understand, like the father I heard of recently who could not comprehend why his daughter who had just finished college would “give up on a real career” to go and use her skills to serve people in Africa.
Sometimes when we follow this law of God’s, people may even respond to us with hatred. As has been the case for the Thompsons, a missionary family I met in Haiti, who have been yelled at and threatened for teaching about the love of Jesus to people in Gonaives.
This law of God may lead a student to forego a spring break on a sunny beach to go and serve on a mission. Many couples now are now choosing to give up on traditional ideas of a honeymoon to provide acts of love and service to those in places of need. My friends, Jason and Elizabeth, recently celebrated their 25th anniversary by joining with a group from the Global Orphan Project to work with orphans in Haiti.
We may be called to stand with people who are rejected, hated, or unloved. Following this law of God’s may have us join with people and causes that we would never have imagined. Our friends may question our sanity and others may find us an inspiration, but we cannot ignore that we are called to a greater law and bigger cause. What will you do for the cause of justice and God’s love? Are you up to the challenge or would you prefer the safety of what is proper and the way it has always been done?
I pray you will seek the higher law. Amen.