Don’t Just Be a RuleKeeper!
Why are some people “rule-keepers?” What is it about most of us that if we know the “rules” we seem to be fine with that? Of course, not everyone is a rulekeeper. If that were true, I wouldn’t have had a job when I was a police officer.
Being a rulekeeper isn’t a bad thing. But it can become a bad thing. Let me explain. I was sitting with this dear lady and close friend and we were talking about some issue of protocol. She was an organizational stickler. It was her greatest talent, and she was absolutely amazing when it came to organizing events. But this talent was also her greatest weakness when it came to working with others. She struggled when it came time to work with a team of people who were not as focused on rules as she was. It caused her all kinds of trouble. And the reason is that she didn’t allow room for the good to be good enough. Her great ability blinded her to the very human relationships she struggled to maintain.
The truth is our greatest talents are usually also our greatest weaknesses. Rule-keeping can isolate you from the messy lives of people you need in your life to balance out your own distinctive and abilities. It’s People over Protocols, even when it makes things messier!
Look at our Gospel Lesson today in Mark 2:23-28; 3:1-5:
At that time, Jesus was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath.”
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. And they watched him, to see whether he would heal him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch it out,” and his hand was restored. Mark 2:23-28; 3:1-5
The Lord is confronted by pious religious leaders who rebuke the Lord for allowing His disciples to “break the rules” of the Sabbath, and the way the Lord deals with this instructs us in how to deal with our own spiritual growth and maturity. And they are furious when the Lord refuses to be “captured” by their reduction of the life of faith to mere rule-keeping AND they are upset that their own spiritual smallness is exposed to everyone! So, the Lord lovingly attempted to correct their poverty and misapplication of the wisdom of God by making two very important distinctions about the Wisdom God has given humanity.
The first distinction is the “rules” were made for man, not man for the rules. Actually, it is instructive in our Orthodox tradition that we don’t refer to the directions or the disciplines of the faith as “rules.” We refer to this body of teaching as “wisdom.” The Lord makes it clear that the wisdom of the sabbath disciplines is meant to generally change our thinking and actions about priorities of our lives, not to become straight jackets that prevent us from doing good or loving our neighbors. Wisdom is exactly that; wisdom.
The second distinction is equal to the first. The Lord doesn’t say this wisdom is useless! Or that it should be changed or discarded! The Lord reminds these Jewish leaders that even King David allowed a pearl of higher wisdom to govern his behavior when he and his men were hungry. They ate the bread in the temple that was exclusively reserved for the priests. Then the Lord healed a man with a withered hand in the synagogue showing that being loving toward another is always higher and greater wisdom than disciplines that might technically be obeyed to the detriment of others.
St. Eleutherios and his mother, St. Anthia, were Roman citizens. St. Eleutherios’ father died when he was very young and his mother sent Eleutherios to Bishop Anicetus of Rome so that Eleutherios could be educated in scripture. He excelled in learning that, even though he was still a young man, the Church made him the bishop of Illyricum. His wise leadership and great preaching saw many converts come to the Faith. In the early part of the 2nd century, harsh persecution against the Christians broke out in the Empire, and St. Eleutherios was arrested, tortured, and beheaded for his faith in Christ. As a loving mother, St. Anthia held her slain son in her arms and was beheaded as well. These two, mother and son, reveal the power of placing people ahead of protocol. They could have saved themselves by compromising with the authority of the day and following the rules of pagan Roman society. But they valued their relationship with Jesus more than their very lives!
Today, we are called to be purposeful in our relationship with God and one another, and, by being purposeful, we reveal the wise truth that we prioritize these relationships as most important in our choices and actions. We remember St. Clement, Bishop of Ancyra today. And his life of faithfulness to Christ in spite of severe persecution that lasted 28 years and ended with his beheading, leaves us a witness to the power of an authentic life in Christ that isn’t merely about keeping rules but loving God! This Normal Orthodox life is meant to create that kind of faithfulness in your life as well!
P.S. You blossomed forth for the faithful, O most sacred Clement, as a branch of holiness, a staff of contest, a most sacred flower, and a sweet God-given fruit. But as a fellow sufferer of martyrs and a fellow prelate of hierarchs, intercede with Christ our God that our souls be saved. Amen
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