We have a great many traffic laws in this country, regulating everything from the speed we can go to which car goes first at an intersection. Each law on its own seems to be dictating behavior. If you look at the body of traffic laws, though, you get a different picture. At their core, they are rules of engagement for a civil society, requiring respect for the rights of others, ensuring communal safety, and working together to accomplish greater freedom of movement for all.
At times, individual laws can be ethically broken. It’s called epikeia. If you’re rushing to the hospital in an emergency you can ethically speed and, if it can be done safely, run a red light. Likewise, Jesus occasionally breaks a law – i.e. the law against healing on the Sabbath – to serve God’s core purpose. Clearly, Jesus doesn’t want mindless adherence as if that’s enough, or as if obedience is a free ticket to heaven. No, God asks more than that. The laws give a framework; it is up to us to fulfill that framework. Like Jesus, we must live the vision of God’s reign, obey the spirit behind the law, and fulfill the aspects of God’s will held within each command.
Let’s keep that in mind as we proceed through Lent, a time when many people abide by laws and rules. It isn’t enough for me to go through the motions of being Catholic – getting ashes, attending Sunday Mass, giving up chocolate, praying more often – without deeply considering what Lent is all about and pondering what God is calling me to in this holy season. Instead of asking what I am doing for Lent, I need to ask how what I’m doing is fulfilling the broader purpose of God and my growth as a disciple.
Then the questions get tougher. What am I not doing for Lent? Which commands or teachings am I most reluctant to obey and why? What parts of myself are hiding behind my adherence to “the rules”? Am I following God’s commandments mindlessly, or have I allowed God’s commandments to enter into me in life-giving ways?
Because we come to God as a community, my actions and attitudes also have a communal effect. If my faith life consists of merely following rules, why would anyone else be attracted to join me? It is the depth, passion, and joy of my relationship with God (which is bolstered by obeying God’s commands) that is capable of inviting others to the same. Perhaps this Lent, we can concentrate more on fulfilling the purpose of God’s laws as Jesus taught. If we do, we’ll be ready and receptive to the new life of Easter, while witnessing to others by our lives.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.corgenius.com/.