Rules That Matter

The early arrival of our new grandson turned the lives of all concerned upside down. Fortunately, Daniel continues to thrive in his parents’ care. As I offer a prayer of thanksgiving, I acknowledge that life’s surprises should be nothing new to any of us. Every day, rules are made for good reason and rules are broken for good reason. In Daniel’s case, he arrived at God’s appointed time with no regard for the expectations of the rest of us. With that realization in mind, I look around at our untidy house, piles of laundry and the once-blank page which I am currently filling. I temporarily set these things aside because visiting Daniel and his parents at the hospital is a priority these days.

I admit that I felt smugly vindicated when I read the scriptures today. Mark’s gospel offers a favorite vignette of Jesus-the-Rule-Breaker. Jesus did not disregard The Law. His parents raised him to be a devout member of the temple who took God’s wishes to heart. Equally importantly, however, Jesus took God’s love to heart. It was this choice to care for God’s children above all else which caused Jesus to fall into the poor graces of the rule-makers of his day. All of this brings to mind a fictional portrayal of Jesus-the-Rebel whom I encountered years ago in The Joshua Books (which are a very good read!). These narratives chronicle the adventures of the contemporary Jesus of Nazareth who revisits our modern world. Father Joseph Girzone’s rendering of Joshua is very much in keeping with Jesus’ experience in Mark’s gospel (Mark 7:1-8; 14-15; 21-23). In JOSHUA IN THE HOLY LAND (Girzone, Joseph F., Macmillan Publishing, New York, 1992), Joshua finds himself in the midst of just such an encounter.

As Father Girzone tells it, it was early Saturday when Joshua walked through an Orthodox settlement. Joshua offended onlookers because he carried a backpack. This was considered “work” which was disallowed on the Sabbath. When Joshua hurried along, seemingly to attend to important business, his quick pace violated the Sabbath once again. Those whom Joshua passed expressed disdain over these violations. It mattered little to them that Joshua was on his way to assist someone who desperately needed him. Joshua pointed out that it was rigidity such as this which prevented his adversaries’ ancient counterparts from recognizing him. The men responded by attempting to do Joshua violence. Apparently, those men determined that violence was allowable on the Sabbath! It was only the unexpected intervention of a friend that saved Joshua from being beaten.

Passages from Deuteronomy and James join Father Girzone and Mark’s gospel in illustrating the intent and the spirit of the law handed down to us through the scriptures and tradition. In Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8, Moses presents the Ten Commandments to the people who had exhibited their hard-heartedness repeatedly. They desperately needed guidance regarding the value of their humanity and their relationships with God. In response, God inspired Moses to present the people with these precepts which would guide them in loving and relying upon God and in loving and cherishing one another. James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27 celebrates the grace that comes in everything God offers from above, especially in the ten simple rules which draw the best of our humanity from within us.

Father Girzone’s Joshua reintroduced the same simple rules to the modern world. Joshua urged the people to consider their use of The Law and their willingness to put love above all else. This Joshua echoes Jesus’ challenge. When the unexpected disrupts our plans and turns our world topsy-turvy, we must adjust the demands we place upon others and ourselves. God asks only that we do our best in the moment at hand. If this requires setting aside a rule or two, so be it. The only thing we are asked not to set aside is our love for one another.

When our little grandson made his way into this world a bit early, his parents, doctors, nurses and the rest of us adjusted as needed to respond. When he arrived in need of a few extra weeks in the hospital, all else gave way to accommodate Daniel’s care. I admit that it is easy to set aside my own agenda for this lovable little child. Today, God asks each of us to do the same for all of God’s children –lovable and otherwise– when they need us most.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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