Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 5; 147:1-11, Jeremiah 3:6-18, Romans 1:(26-27) 28-2:11, John 5:1-18
Do you play by the rules?
In theory we’re all expected to, but in practice they seem to apply to some of us more than others. How frustrating it is when people with wealth or influence can buy their way around the rules or the consequences of breaking them.
Still, most of us try to follow the rules. Maybe not the same rules, but generally speaking our behaviors fall into patterns that we apply consciously and subconsciously. Some rules are taught to us by our families, some by society, and some by simple observation. Most are created for good reasons, but over time circumstances change and the rationale for many rules—including religious ones—grows distorted.
Rules can become so integral to our identities that breaking them, even when they cease to have meaning, threatens our sense of self. If that happens, we may find ourselves existing to serve the rules, rather than the other way around. When this happens, we begin to observe the technicalities of the rules rather than their spirit. Sometimes this looks like doing the bare minimum, and sometimes it looks like obsessive behavior.
The Sabbath healings of Jesus presented just such a threat to the Pharisees, whose identity depended on rules.
Since Sabbath healings – which were against the rules – appear in all four Gospels, we can assume the message of these stories is important. Rather than judge the Pharisees, let’s learn from their example.
Our expectations of other people’s behavior are often based on the rules we’ve imposed on ourselves. We may become offended when such expectations are not met, regardless of whether or not we’ve made said expectations clear. When this happens, we choose how to react: we can dig in our heels, or we can examine the reason for our offense. We needn’t automatically assume we are wrong, but self-examination never hurt anyone. Like Jesus, we need to consider when rules are appropriate, and when they should be superseded by compassion, justice, or love. In Christ we are a people of love, and not a people of law—even self-imposed law. Is the Sabbath made holier by offering mercy or withholding it?
But Christianity is not a free-for-all! Christ has expectations of his followers. Determining these expectations can be hard work, because “love your neighbor” is not nearly as explicit as a list of forbidden activities. Loving someone doesn’t absolve them – or us – of accountability. Christ didn’t offer formulas for faith, but principles for relationships with our God and our neighbor. Our rule is love, and its accompanying expectations can change with each person we encounter.
Comfort: You are more than the rules you follow.
Challenge: When someone doesn’t meet your expectations, ask yourself whether you made that person aware of them.
Prayer: Merciful God, teach me when to be merciful, and when to stand strong. Amen.
Discussion: Has assuming someone should “just know” something ever caused trouble for you?
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