Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rules, Laws and the Church

Twenty Second Ordinary Sunday Year B

Many people complain that Christianity and the Catholic church have too many rules and prohibitions. They often would use the excuse that if Jesus were alive today, he would abolish all these rules. They would argue that it is enough to do good and avoid evil. This is a very dangerous statement. More often than not it is an excuse to do what we want without reference to anything or anyone else. Very often, we can do a great deal of evil while we intend to do good. On the other hand, we are often corrupted by our own selfish desires that it would be hard to choose what is good rather than what is evil.

Today’s readings remind us that the law is given for our benefit. It is a guide to help us become better persons. It is guide to help us become mature and responsible Christians. The Book of Deuteronomy tells to “keep them, observe them, and they will demonstrate to the peoples your wisdom and understanding.” St. James in the second reading speaks of the law of God as “all that is good, everything that is perfect, which is given to us from above.” It is given to us in order that we become the “first fruits of all that he had created” – in other words, the persons that he had created. Without God’s law to guide us, we will be guided by our own pride and selfishness. Therefore, the laws of God and his church are meant to help us become free from our own selfish motives and intentions instead of taking freedom away from us.

James continues to remind us that we need to “accept and submit to the word which has been planted in you and can save your souls. But you must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.”

On the other hand, we must also avoid the other extreme. There are many who slavishly follow these church rules without understanding their intent. So much so that we find these people often very judgmental of others. They see themselves as the perfect guardians of the Law and take it upon themselves to be the watchdogs of morality. Some of them are very quick to point out to others or to the priest how so-and-so is living in an irregular marriage, how this person should not be receiving communion, how we should bar other sinners from coming forward for communion etc. The Pharisees and scribes in the gospels were like these. In today’s gospel, we hear Jesus reprimanding this group of people. He called them ‘hypocrites’ while describing them as this: “This people honours me only with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me.”

In order to be good Christians, it is not enough to just follow the laws. Sometimes we follow laws blindly. We do it only because we fear punishment. That’s not how we should follow these laws. The laws of God are based on the law of love. If we do something out of love, there is never any compulsion. In order that we might be good Christians, we must follow God’s law out of love and not because we fear punishment.

We are able to act out of love when there is a real conversion from within. We must remember the words of Jesus in today’s gospel that “nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean.” Let us then pray that God will cleanse our hearts from all evil intentions so that we may not only listen to his word but also do what he tells us to do.

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