In the readings for this coming Sunday, we are invited to consider the purpose and meaning of rules and laws. In the older testament reading from Deuteronomy, Moses insists on the value of observing God’s law. The law given by God to Moses represented the relationship between God and his people. Instruction to observe the law included the motivating promise: “thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations.” But like any law, the law of Moses requires interpretation. When, how, for whom, and in what circumstances are laws to be applied? Over the centuries, oral tradition developed and was handed down by generations of leading rabbis, making following the law a complicated business.
Rules and laws exist for the good of people and society. Traffic laws exist to provide order and eliminate accidents. They are intended to protect us. This week’s gospel is about laws, too. In order to be right with God, a certain group, called Pharisees, are caught up in the interpretation. Pharisees at the time of Jesus were members of a renewal movement that sought to restore God’s favor to Israel by advocating strict observance of the law and total separation from all gentile defilement. They are scandalized by the way Jesus’s disciples ate their meals, and by the way Jesus had just fed the hungry masses without regard to ritual purity.
Jesus is not against laws, but he is concerned that people might use authority or enforcement of laws to exclude people who really are interested or who are beginning to recognize their need for a relationship with God. He is concerned that the very people who do this don't seem to live their lives in a way that is consistent with his own experience of relationship, based on love. A relationship of spirit and life. A relationship he experiences in his own prayer. A relationship that didn't begin with laws but with worship.
This is why we are so concerned about making worship experiences more meaningful and welcoming at New Roads. Rather than see attending Mass as the fulfillment of the law, we hope to invite people to discover or deepen their awareness of what it’s like to live our lives based on a relationship with God. So it’s a good week to ask ourselves what traditions we blindly cling to, and where we are or could be more discerning. This is not about giving yourself permission to go through a red light when you are in a hurry and it seems no one else is around or that you won’t get caught. It’s about asking ourselves why we attend Mass in the first place, or maybe asking ourselves whether we seek to stretch our relationship with God by opening up to new prayer experiences and opportunities to serve. We need to look at how we live our lives, asking if we have hearts truly turned toward God in a healthy and life-giving relationship.
Take your next step: What rules or traditions are an automatic part of your life? Do they have real meaning for you? How is God inviting you to seek new ways to show the wisdom, intelligence, and love that come from your relationship with him?