In last Sunday's appointed Gospel lesson (Luke 13:10-17), we see a very compelling interaction between Jesus and a religious professional. Jesus is teaching a crowd of people in a synagogue on the sabbath when a woman walks in bent over with a crippling disability from which she has suffered for nearly 20 years. Jesus stops teaching, calls out to her, lays his hands on her, and heals her. In doing so, Jesus broke at least two religious rules: (1) he touched a woman who was not his wife, and (2) he worked" on the day of rest.
Rather than thank Jesus for his act of love and compassion toward this woman, the religious professional (read: pastor, priest, or minister) rebukes Jesus for having broken the rules. Jesus returns the admonition and uses the opportunity to teach the crowd that love and compassion are more important than blind submission to religious rules.
The Christian scriptures teach us that God is love (1 John 4:8b). They also teach us that Jesus of Nazareth was God incarnate - that is, God in human form. Therefore, if God is love and Jesus is God, then Jesus is Love in human form. When God visited us in the form of Jesus Christ, Jesus himself taught us that the highest, most important commandment is to love - that is, to love God, neighbor and self. We're even supposed to love our enemies! We might then say that nearly the whole point of the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is simply this: love. I sometimes put it this way to my parishioners: "You were made of Love, in the image of Love, for the purpose of Love; and when you die to this life, you will return to that Love, forever."
How sad then that from early in the history of the church we forgot those truths and began to build a religion about rules instead of love. Very rarely in our modern world will you find Christians described as "those people who love, no matter what." More often we are described (and even describe ourselves!) not by what we can do but by what we supposedly can't or won't do. We can't share communion with them; it's against the rules. We can't join those two people in marriage; it's against the rules. We can't ordain them; it's against the rules. We can't help those people; it's against the rules.
It's not that all rules are bad. In fact, most rules are good. But I believe that what Jesus teaches us when he reaches out and touches a suffering woman and heals her on the sabbath is that whenever a rule gets in the way of love, we must always choose love and break the rule.
Christians, use the opportunity given by this Gospel lesson to examine how you practice your faith. Or is your faith about love above all? If not, it might be time to break some rules.
- Reeder is the rector at Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport.