Monday, September 12, 2011

Love and Rules

By Florence Steichen

‘Animosity divides factions’ leapt out at me in the brochure for the Synod of the Baptized. One of the main reasons for this sad, stark statement is our different approaches to rules. Think how often progressive Catholics are accused of breaking rules.

We celebrate Liturgy with unauthorized presiders and homilists, inclusive language, and creative Eucharistic prayers with some prescribed words missing. We worship this way not to be rebellious, bur rather to express who we are as a community and who we are trying to become — faithful disciples of Jesus our brother.

We look to the Gospels and see that they are full of instances in which Jesus broke/transcended a rule to show his compassion for suffering people.

Jesus healed on the Sabbath: the woman bent over for 18 years, the man born blind, and the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethsaida. He reminded his questioners that they loose their animals on the Sabbath, and the Sabbath is made for people, not the other way around.

The scribes and Pharisees who knew and kept the rules put Jesus to the test. “Teacher, this woman was taken in the act of adultery. Moses commanded us to stone such a woman. What do you say?” After the elders had left because no one was without sin to cast a stone, Jesus told the woman, “neither do I condemn you; go on your way ...”

Many of the parables give the same message: compassion goes beyond rules. The Good Samaritan was praised for tending to the needs of the injured traveler, rather than the Priest and Levite who passed by so as not to risk ritual impurity and be unfit for temple worship.

Jesus himself touched lepers, breaking the purity code. When he was criticized for not washing his hands before he ate, Jesus responded that what goes into a person does not make one unclean, but what comes out of the heart.

The father of the prodigal son broke rules. He was NOT to run after his son, but to await him in the village center and denounce him publicly. The elder brother who had never disobeyed his father’s commands could not summon enough love to welcome his brother back and celebrate as his father entreated him.

One of my favorites is the judgment scene in Matt. 25 in which the blessed who will be welcomed into the kin-dom are those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, sheltered the homeless, visited the sick and imprisoned. Not a word about those who observed the rules.

As we support one another on our journey, let us be heartened by Jesus’ answer to the question about which is the greatest commandment.

“You shall love the lord your God with your whole heart and soul, mind and strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments the whole law and prophets depend.”

John of the Cross summed it up: “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.”

Image: "Compassionate Christ" by John Giuliani.


  1. Interesting, of the 31,103 verses of the Bible, you keep quoting the same few that you like, forgetting Matthew 5:18 that says: "I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished."

  2. So, Ray, doesn't that mean we should be following every rule and law of the Old Testament? Yet as Christians we don't do that. We eat pork. We wear mixed fabrics, etc. How does this square with the verse you quoted?



  3. Well, the Blessed Mother said, "Do whatever He tells you! And he said, "Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Sun and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe ALL THE COMMANDS I GAVE YOU. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time."

    You don't get to choose a few verses that you like, that pagans also like. Pagans often like to help their poor, too.