2 Corinthians 3:4-11
Jesus took the law seriously and wherever possible he obeyed it. He knew that the spirit of the law was only possible because the letter of the law existed. Yet when he found a law whose practice betrayed the spirit behind it, a law that put undue burden on God’s people or especially one that perpetuated injustice and oppression, he fearlessly stood against it or outright broke it. He ate with sinners, threw marketers out of the temple, healed on the Sabbath, and included women, tax collectors, and other marginalized people in his inner circle. He challenged the religious and civil authorities of his day, working always to make the law conform to the Kingdom of God.
How then can we resolve the dilemma of the scriptures today? How can we abide by the smallest letter of the law, and yet honor the admonishment that the letter of the law brings death? How can we live by even the least of the law’s commands and yet follow Jesus’ example of challenging authority? When do we obey the law because it is the law, and when do we resist a law because it is unjust and needs to be changed?
Rather than resolving this conundrum for us, today’s readings intensify it. Because there are few clear answers, good people of faith often clash over the laws surrounding questions of orthodoxy, punishment, unity, pastoral norms, and more. Competing theologies of the Eucharist occupy every pew. Debates rage over the best political strategies to combat moral evils. Dissent, even from careful and studied positions, is silenced as disloyalty. Affording legal rights to one or another demographic group triggers explosive arguments on both sides. Defiance of unjust civil law is sometimes enshrined as God-like and other times condemned as crossing the church-state boundary.
What are we to do when interpretations of laws and their intent are so much at odds? Can the Spirit hold us together in the midst of these clashes? Sometimes I wonder; it is easy to get discouraged. But my hope is sustained by the struggle itself. Good and sincere people are working to envision and build a Kingdom where God’s will is done on earth just as surely as it is in heaven. Although issues about which specific laws and practices bring about such a world need to be questioned, debated, and challenged, the fact remains that much human energy is devoted to the pursuit of holiness and justice. Surely our God will honor that. And perhaps, as Paul proclaims, that which endures in the long run will indeed be glorious.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website at http://www.amyflorian.com/.