Readings for July 14, 2019
Growing up, my mom often (very often) said, “do what you’re told!” In doing so, she broke down her expectations to the most basic level of understanding so that even a rebellious teen could understand them. And I see now that God does something similar with His children. After His rebellious people’s exodus from Egypt, God tried to lay out a similar level of understanding for them through Moses. First, God tells them the blessings they will receive when they follow the rules (Deuteronomy, Chapter 28). Then He lays out the consequences for not following the rules (Chapter 29). And finally, Moses boils it down for them: “When you follow the rules, life will be good. When you don’t, it will be bad. This isn’t hard to understand. Just do what you’re told” (Chapter 30).
This message is important. Sin is, at its base, willful disobedience. But life is frequently more nuanced than simply following orders and circumstances tend to cloud understanding. After all, the Pharisee and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan were following rules. The Pharisee followed the rule of his church to remain clean, and he did not help to mend the wounds of the man on the side of the road because he knew that if he did, he risked becoming “unclean.” The Levite followed the rule of the frightened, and he did not approach the man on the side of the road because he knew that if he did, he risked falling victim to bandits, as had the poor soul on the side of the road. Both knew the commandment to love their neighbor, but their decisions were clouded by other rules.
However, the Samaritan’s decision was not clouded by rules. He was neither bound by the additional rules of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, nor bound by fear. The Samaritan’s religious beliefs would have been opposed to the Pharisaical “rules” of Judaism. It is clear he did not follow the rules of the frightened either, as his helping the wounded stranger put him at risk of bandits as well as risk from his own people for aiding the enemy. With this freedom, it was easy for the Samaritan to follow the rules of mercy and compassion, helping his neighbor despite their differences in background. And for this, he was labeled “Good” and made an example to us all.
Yet, the moral of his story is not that we should altogether abandon the other rules. While loving my neighbor is the second highest commandment after loving my God, it still is not all that I have been told to do. And I must do all that I am told. For example, I am a baseball fan. The basic “rule” of the sport is to score more runs than the opponents. Yet there are other rules that govern how the game is played so that things are done in an organized, fair, and just way.
As such, I may still, at times, be fearful and wisely exercise caution before putting myself into dangerous situations. And I should still attend Mass and practice the rules that my Church puts forth to help lead me to holiness. But what I should not do is use the “rules” as excuses for not doing what is “Good.” When I am in doubt about what to do, I should remember that, like my mother did for her rebellious teen, God has broken down His expectations to the most basic level of understanding and He has written them on my heart: Love God. Love my neighbor.
Moses emphasizes this to the people, explaining that they know what is right as it is “already in your mouths and in your hearts.” So if I truly love God with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength and all my mind, I surely understand that how I interact with my neighbor must reflect that love. And my call to action applies to more than a narrowly defined set of people and circumstances. Be they my “enemy” or “unclean,” whether they live next door to me or across the globe, I am called to love every “neighbor” God places in my life. This means giving my all, to all, in all circumstances, with all love. No nuance too difficult or precept too lofty. Once this commandment has been written on my heart, I can no longer disobey without intent. To disobey is to sin but to obey in freedom is love. And, ultimately, the primary measure of my obedience is the love that I live.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart, the command of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eye.
Three simple rules:
3-For all else, refer to numbers 1 & 2
-Reflections from the Pew