For a young person growing up, there are lots of rules to learn. There are family rules, society rules, cultural rules, religious rules, house rules, school rules, and of course numerous rules for proper behavior when out in public. Some rules are specific to a particular day such as a weekday or a Saturday or a Sunday.
There are rules about how you treat others. How a child learns to treat their peers is different than how they treat their teachers or even their parents. Children are taught they are supposed to love people but the behavior they learn from watching adults is frequently less then loving. It can be very confusing simply trying to grow up and learn the rules. Yet, learning the "do’s" and the "don’t do’s" is necessary in childhood development and formation. And if a child doesn’t learn these, then their ability to integrate into society at a later stage will be more difficult.
I can recall a very conflicting point for myself was the first time I visited a big city and saw someone passed out on the sidewalk. It seems the rules here were different than any other rules I had been taught. But nobody cared, nobody tried to help and most people pretended the man wasn’t even there. And I was very confused.
To contrast this to the other situation whereby someone got hurt, or was suffering from loss, grief or pain. In these situations ALL the rules changed. The necessity to attend school or work was instantly retracted. Rules around productivity were suspended. The only thing that was important was attending to the person or people who were suffering.
I spend time looking at rules in our lives because I believe it helps us understand the Pharisee mentality. The Pharisees were more focused on living and preserving the letter of the law, keeping the rules because they understood these rules came from God. And if that is the case then these are the highest degree of perfection. The problem with this mentality is that it neglects the human person. Jesus focuses on the needs of the human person. Jesus will continue to live and teach that the needs of a human person must be greater than the need to keep the law. This will cause many of the Pharisees to say to Jesus, So who are you? You don’t have the authority to change God’s law. So the Pharisee clearly refuses to recognize the authority of Jesus, or that Jesus is God’s chosen one. They cling instead to a tradition whereby following the rules of the law set them free from having to look at the needs of people. Their system perpetuated a blindness of humanity. It’s not a wonder that in Jesus’ time there were so many people living such poor lives. But then it always is a lot easier to do what we were taught in our formative years than to open our eyes and see the needs of humanity around us.
And getting back to the man passed out on the sidewalk, it happened to be a Sunday morning as we were departing the cathedral after mass.
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is on the staff at Christ the King Passionist Retreat Center, Citrus Heights, California.