The Law is not just a set of Rules
For years, a neighbour of ours at home just couldn’t pass the driving test. He tried everything.He must have had about ten different instructors over the years.He went out practicing every hour God sent. And what’s more, he knew the rules of the road even better than the driving testers themselves!
I heard that after his fourth unsuccessful driving test, he got so annoyed he’d failed that he lashed out at the examiner: “But I answered every question you asked”, he protested.”And what’s more, I know I gave you the right answers, because I’ve studied so hard, I know all the rules inside out at this stage”. “That’s your problem” said the examiner.”You’re so caught up with observing the rules, that I’d actually consider you a danger on the road because you drive without due care and consideration”.The rules are important but the people the rules are there to protect are even more important and you just haven’t copped on to that yet.
That was just what our neighbour needed to hear.Because while he was so caught up with meticulously knowing the rules of the road all the time, he had never stopped to think that behind all the rules is one essential and very important value. And that’s respect for the dignity and the safety of other people…
He took the test a few months later. Needless to say, this time he passed and all because his attitude had changed.He was more people conscious on the road this time round. The rules he had learned opened up new horizons for him as a driver once he came to realise their primary purpose.
And that’s the kind of law abiding that Jesus is talking about in the Gospel today. He talks about bringing our understanding of laws and rules to a deeper level.To a level that goes further than just blindly obeying the law.To a level that puts respect for God and for people before everything else. Laws and rules are important in the Christian life. We have the Commandments and the truth of the Commandments should never be watered down, because at the heart of the Commandments is respect for God, for ourselves and for other people.But sometimes in our holy duty to obey the Commandments we can be so harsh and judgmental towards others that all we actually do is distance and isolate them further from the faith.Their experience of Christianity is so exclusive and elitist that feel they just aren’t good enough and so they want nothing more to do with us.
What’s needed in today’s world are Christians who are more than just slaves to the rules.Those kind of Christians aren’t attractive or enticing.They just turn everyone else off and ultimately they’re not very convincing. The Gospel, however, calls us to be on fire with love for God and for others. To be Christians who can draw other people into the love of God not by preaching the rules at them, or telling them what they should or shouldn’t be doing, but by sharing with them something of the love and the forgiveness of God that has transformed our own lives.
St. Francis de Sales had a beautiful way of describing what the Gospel of Jesus is all about. He said you’ll catch far more bees with a spoonful of honey than you could ever dream of catching with a barrel of vinegar. The same is true for each of us as followers of Jesus. We can spend our time criticising others for the rules we feel they’re not obeying or we can draw others closer to Jesus by radiating something of the beauty of his love that gives our lives such happiness and purpose.
The prayer of St. Francis of Assisi captures the message of today’s gospel well: “Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light.Where there is sadness, joy.” Amen