1 Corinthians 5:1-8
The law is clear: No one is supposed to work on the Sabbath. This sacred written law was given directly by God to Moses. You can’t get much more authoritative than that. When it became apparent that Jesus was about to violate that law in order to cure a man’s withered hand, I can imagine the Pharisees asking him, "What is it you don’t understand? Can you not see how clearly this is written in the law? In order to call yourself a Jew, you must obey the law without exceptions. It is a black-and-white, open-and-shut case. This is God’s word and you may not violate it."
Yet Jesus turns the law on its head by asking whether the Sabbath is intended to give life or take life. Knowing that giving life is the answer, he heals the man’s hand and ignites the fury of the hierarchy of his day. They condemn him as a notorious lawbreaker leading people astray from the truths and authentic practice of their faith.
I understand the desire of so many people in our church today to uphold the law. We need to have rules, boundaries, and guidelines. We need to retain our sense of sin, right and wrong, and faithfulness to the tradition. But I wonder what would happen if Jesus were here today. I wonder how often, and in how many ways, he would point out that we rely too heavily on the rules and the letter of the law instead of looking at the underlying goals of discipleship and faith.
For example: Would Jesus dictate that hosts could be made only of wheat, even for people with gluten intolerance or in cultures where wheat is rare and other grains are a staple? Would Jesus deny communion to a sinner? Would Jesus cling to a human law on celibacy if it meant large numbers of the faithful could no longer celebrate full Eucharist on a daily or even weekly basis? Would Jesus condemn a Church official who invites the President of the United States to a lunch he is hosting, or refuse to allow a respected speaker at a Catholic university unless every one of the speaker’s positions (even those not addressed at the event) were in line with official Church teaching? Whether you would answer "yes" or "no", the list could go on endlessly as we examine the rubrics of our sacraments and our worship, the services we offer or refuse to offer, our willingness to communicate/collaborate rather than adamantly refusing to engage, our ecclesial structures and decision-making authority, our accountability (or lack thereof) for actions we condemn in others, and more. In other words, how dramatically different would our church be if we viewed every issue with the law in mind but with the primacy of love, inclusion, and pastoral service at heart?
I do not pretend to have the answers. I know the issues are complex and deeply rooted. I do suspect there are too many ways in which the reality of our church today is at odds with the ideal Jesus upheld. I also mourn the frequency and virulence with which people who sincerely work for the vision they believe embodies that ideal are summarily dismissed or condemned as notorious lawbreakers leading others astray from the truths and authentic practice of their faith.
So I begin by examining my own practices, always seriously considering the law and teaching authority of the Church while opening my heart of stone to the Spirit in prayer, reaching out in love even when it is costly, and proactively making changes in my life to conform more completely to the model of Jesus’ love, inclusivity, and pastoral practice. At the same time, I pray for the wider Church, that there may be more openness and dialogue, more flexibility for pastoral application, more gentleness and compassion, more soul-searching and perhaps even a bit of law-changing.
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.amyflorian.com/.