Isaiah 38: 1-6, 21-22, 7-8
God bless my dad. He had a saying, "There are rules and regulations…" I’m not sure he ever finished the phrase. He didn’t need to.
His phrase-lette was, of course, hauled out when someone (me, my sisters, my brother-in-law, hippies, etc.) had already or were in danger of breaking the rules and regulations. I actually think my dad was entitled to some bragging rights because, well, he was pretty good at following "the rules" himself.
But it wore him down, too, I think, the reliance on rules as a way to keep life somehow in order; as a way to identify who could be judged as right and wrong. At the end of his life I had a moment of profound sadness – and Lord knows I could be very wrong in my own judgment of this – but I wasn’t sure that my father knew how much he was loved by God. I wanted him to know in his bones that he was cherished by God, not because he had kept the rules, but because he had actually lived out of a more compelling law: he tried to be a good father in the face of some very difficult circumstances. He wasn’t always easy, rule-observer that he was, but we knew where he stood and he kept our little family’s ship on course.
It is Jesus’ words today in the Gospel that reverberate within me: I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. How many times in the Gospels do we hear Jesus urging the Pharisees to see beyond the rules to a greater, deeper law? Don’t observe the Sabbath, Jesus says, by judging harshly or rigidly the human embodiment of God’s love. Be merciful and you will truly honor the one who made you.
For Jesus and those who follow him, that greater, deeper law is rooted in love. Let’s pray that our Church is never the hardened repository of do’s and don’ts that limit and exclude, but a body whose very life-breath comes from the Holy Spirit and her loving, merciful people seeking only to do God’s will.
Nancy Nickel is director of communications at the Passionist Development Office in Chicago.