Jesus was going through a field of grain on the sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath.” Matt. 12: 1 – 2
Have you ever broken the law? I know that I have.
I remember one of my first traffic tickets, a violation of the law. It happened in California. I came to a complete stop as the light had turned red while making a right turn. Both streets were wide, two lanes of traffic each way. Two persons had just stepped into the crosswalk as I began my right turn. I thought nothing of it. They were at least three lanes of traffic away from my car. Two blocks later, a police car stops me, lights on and sirens blaring. Lowering my window, “what’s wrong, officer,” was my question, “Did you not see the two people who were beginning to cross the street?” “Yes, but they were far away.” He says authoritatively, “In California, that doesn’t matter. The pedestrian always has the right of way.” I had broken the law! I got a traffic ticket.
Probably, everyone one of us has had a similar experience. We break the law, sometimes unknowingly and other times, intentionally. Who of us is going to keep to the speed limit when we are driving to the hospital in an emergency? Jesus never taught that laws were to be obeyed absolutely, without expectation. This Gospel is a good example of that teaching.
The early church dealt with the issue of obeying God or human law. It was an easy issue for them to resolve. We obey human law unless it violates God’s law. And God’s law never violates the human person or human dignity. A clear example of this is found in the Gospel of John, the woman caught in the very act of adultery. Faced with enforcing an unjust law of his tradition, Jesus chose mercy rather compliance, saving a woman’s life rather than obeying the letter of the law. For Jesus, this was a no brainer. Jesus was sent by the Father to save the world and not to condemn it. Our tradition is clear.
But our own times and our own lives does not always leave us with such clarity and certainty. We grew up believing that every law that we human beings pass in our government institutions, whether by election or by city, state or federal bodies, are to be obeyed. When we begin to doubt whether a law is just or unjust, we rightly need to pause and rely on the best our core beliefs about God, God’s Will for us, Jesus’ teachings in the Gospel and the guidance of Church, our Mother.
How can God desire the violation of our human rights and our human dignity? How can Mother Church forget the least of her children? No human being has the right to violate the good name of another. No human institution can deny human rights. No government or government officials have the authority to enforce unjust laws. This is our Catholic tradition!
Living the moral life in today’s world is not easy. Our humanness may try to lead us in one direction but our faith and discipleship to God and to Jesus will show us the way to living right, to loving God and neighbor, and embracing a God of Life and Love. We cannot go wrong following Jesus, Son of God and of Mary, who died on the Cross so we could have life and have it to the full.
Fr. Clemente Barrón, C.P. is a member of Mater Dolorosa Community in Sierra Madre, California.