The Importance of Rules (and breaking them)

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Jesus breaks the rules. He comes from God like John the Baptist does, but he doesn't sit out in the wilderness eating locust and wearing wild animal skins. He is in the tradition of Isaiah and Moses, yet he doesn’t write long books or tote stone tablets with rules to learn. There are three rules that I have learned from watching Jesus:
1) Always be compassionate.
2) Awareness beats ignorance
3) The ends never justify the means (or always trust the process).

We use many rules each day to stay healthy. We brush our teeth religiously, schedule routine medical appointments, trim toenails, spray sunscreen, and perhaps, floss. Each of these has an embedded mental mantra. Just as we say to ourselves thirty days hath September, so we repeat trite rules to form virtuous habits. Yet, there is something in me that rebels against rules. To have physical health and spiritual shalom I need to intentionally embed a limited number of phrases into my subconscious. I need to make it a rule to keep certain rules.

The point of always be compassionate, is that shalom will lie, not in the place where others say that it is, but in the place our heart, that is fully invested in the rule, finds to be compassionate. So, the father in Jesus story about prodigals, is thought to be violating the rule of compassion towards the vegan village and the older brother when he kills the fatted calf for his lost son. But shalom favors this extravagant gesture of grace. Only when we have the first rule firmly embedded in our mind can we see this.

The point of awareness beats ignorance is to confound the authoritarian public institutions and workplace rules that discourage free thought. Shalom will not be found in a country where elected leaders meet in secret and pass legislations without the consent of the governed. Nor will shalom be found in an family system that keeps its legacy of addiction, abuse, and infidelity locked in a closet. The rules about secrecy aways need to be challenged.

The point of the final rule is speak about the relationship of well written rules and the processes that provide shalom for all. Consider how the democratic process in America functions within a framework of rules, which we know as the constitution. When Nixon obstructed justice following the Watergate break-in, he was setting aside the expected process for the public oversight of his office. He must have felt that the ends justified his means. They didn’t. Shalom could only be restored to Washington when the rules were elevated and shown to apply even to him.

In our individual lives there are also spiritual processes, such as the wilderness-transition process, which have their own rules. We, like Jesus, need to follow our rules in ways that are right for us, even when they cause others to question our sanity.

Jesus broke rules of society in order to be compassionate
Pentecost 9