There is nothing that grates against me like someone who displays a blatant disregard for the rules. Cut in line at the grocery store, even unwittingly, and you will be inundated with eye-daggers in the back of your head. Talk on a phone during a movie and I will passive-aggressively turn my head and side-eye you ’till the credits roll. Parents who refuse to park in the parking spots, choosing instead to park along the curve so they are ten freaking yards closer to the door, when they drop off their kids at pre-school will incur so much muttering under my breath I look crazy. And don’t even get me started on the people who park outside of Target in the emergency fire lane while someone “runs in real quick”…
Hi, I’m Nate. And I’m a rule follower.
I know my desire to follow the rules is connected to my deep need to please people. I don’t want to give people any reason to reject me, and so I stay on the straight-and-narrow and apologize quickly when I’ve broken the rules.
But lately, I’ve been wondering if following the rules has been helping or hindering my ability to love people.
Every time I read the Gospels I can’t help but notice how often Jesus breaks the rules. Touching lepers, gathering grain on the sabbath, healing on the sabbath, talking to a Samaritan woman, letting a prostitute wash his feet with his hair. Just think about that last one for a moment. Imagine the uproar that would ensue if were discovered that a well known pastor let a prostitute wash his feet with her hair and perfume. I doubt he is standing in front a congregation on Sunday. Jesus is usually breaking some rule – cultural, social, even religious – when he is extending people the most grace.
Which raises the question, can I love people, really love people, if I’m not breaking the rules?
Perhaps it is important to distinguish between rules and commands. Jesus wasn’t throwing out the Old Testament commands and sinning when he broke the rules. The rules were not the commands but the additions to the commands. God commands, “Remember the sabbath and keep it holy by not doing any work.” Well, that’s great but how in the world do you keep a day holy? What constitutes work? That’s a hard question to answer, so somebody devised rules to help people figure out what that meant – the number of steps, when to cook your food, lighting lamps and the such. And then somewhere along the line the rules became too important, completely missing the point of the command itself which was to deepen ones love of God and neighbor. So Jesus broke the rules to remind people what the commands were for.
Which got him into a lot of trouble with the rule keepers.
Would I have side-eyed Jesus when he went to a tax collectors house?
Am I more afraid of breaking the rules or failing to love people?
Adding rules to commands happens today. Human nature loves rules because it makes figuring out where you stand easy. Keep the rules and you are in. Break the rules and you are out. Rules provide an easy answer to the question everyone is asking, “Am I in or am I out?” And since we always want to be in, once we are there, we don’t want to end up outside by being found guilty of breaking the rules by association. So rule keepers tend not to associate with rule breakers.
This is getting a little philosophical. Let’s put some legs on this.
Take “Your body is a temple of the Lord’s” for example. What does that mean? Well, in context it’s about sexual immorality. Seems straightforward, and yet haven’t we added a lot of ‘rules’ around this verse as well? I’ve heard this verse quoted as reason not to drink, smoke, and get tattoos. They’ve become rules to follow that many in evangelical culture have heard hundreds of times. They may be fine rules to follow, but rules have a knack for becoming moral imperatives. It isn’t a short walk from “Don’t smoke because it is bad for you health and because your body is a temple of the Lord,” to “smoking is sinful.” We may never say that outright, but it sure gets implied. Now, watch what happens. If we imply that smoking is sinful, then what of smokers? They are sinners. And those groups of smokers huddled outside of restaurants on cold winter nights are the new lepers. We pass by on the other side – warning our sons and daughters to hold their breath – while those sinners stand in the cold shivering and sucking on their death sticks.
Kind of hard to love people when you won’t even share the air they breathe.
I wonder what other groups we are passing by as we keep the rules.
The point of this isn’t smoking, or even what does or does not desecrate our bodies. I just want us to think about how our rules might keep us from actually loving people in the way Jesus would. I don’t think Jesus would smoke, but I do think he’d hang out with people who did.
Loving people is messy. Sometimes, in order to love someone with the grace-upon-grace love of Jesus it means breaking the rules. People are dying, literally, as they wait for us to break some of the rules in order to love them.
When LGBT kids are committing suicide because they fear coming out to their parents will result in being rejected, it might be time to break some rules. I’m not talking about commands. Even if you think homosexuality is not God’s intended design, you can still walk across the room and give someone a hug. It might break some cultural rules in your church, but maybe that’s a rule that needs to be broken.
When boys are shooting up schools (and yes, it is predominately boys who do this), it might be time to break some rules. We groom our boys to be men by telling them to man up. We encourage them to hide their emotions so they don’t appear weak. We implicitly communicate that the only safe emotion for them to show is anger. And we are surprised when they get violently angry? Maybe it’s time to break a rule so our young boys can learn to be human.
When women are objectified through a pseudo-holiness reminding them that “modest is hottest,” it might be time to break some rules. When they are blamed for seduction by men who fail to take responsibility for their minds, it might be time to break some rules. The only way to stop objectifying women is to treat them like human beings.
When people suffocate in the pews under the weight not being able to express their doubts because their afraid of judgement, its time to break some rules.
When children aren’t allowed in sanctuaries because they might cry, it’s time to break some rules.
The question should always be before us. Do we love our rules more than we love people? Because if we don’t, then we should be willing to break them. Wouldn’t we run a red light in an emergency?
And isn’t that the kind of love that changes the world? The love that breaks all the rules? Isn’t that the kind of love Jesus shows us? Doesn’t the cross break all the rules? Doesn’t an all holy God who can’t stand sin break all the rules when he takes on flesh so he can touch a bunch of dirty sinners?
I don’t like to break the rules. It makes my stomach turn. But it might be time to start breaking some a little more often.