They live among us. They are checking up to make sure that everyone is following the rules. You know them. It’s the kid in class who tells the teacher that the kid, who probably finished their classwork, is on the internet instead of working on their project. That kid isn’t done, of course, because he’s watching everyone else. It’s the college professor who gives points in class for attendance, and takes attendance at the beginning of class and the end. Charles Turner goes to Ohio University and had one of those professors. He showed up at the beginning of class, gave his homework to another student to hand in for him, and then left class. Attendance was taken at the end of class. He was in big trouble. He had what he thought was a valid excuse, though, and asked the professor to excuse him by sending in a picture of him sitting in the seats at game one of the World Series. The professor’s zero tolerance position on attendance fell by the wayside as the professor agreed that this excuse was good enough.
As a (formerly) long suffering Cubs fan, I must give that professor credit. A World Series ticket is a big thing, and is worth an excused absence. Some professors who might not agree. We have a lot of people in this world who will respond to any transgression by noting that “rules are rules and they are there for a reason.” Jesus dealt with people like that. They were called Pharisees. The Pharisees were sticklers for the rules. They had “improved” on God’s Law and had a whole new layer of rules for people to follow. Jesus pointed out that they were missing the big picture. “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” (Luke 11:42)
How meticulous were the Pharisees on tithing, which means that you give a tenth of your increase to God? They were so exact that they had it down to making sure they gave 1 out of every 10 mint leaves as part of their tithe. While Jesus noted that this was proper, in doing this, they neglected more important matters: justice and the love of God. In other words, in their slavish adherence to the rules, they forgot about treating others right and they made God a harsh taskmaster instead of a loving Father. This was the first of a long series of “woes” that Jesus gave the Pharisees. It’s a woe most of us should feel, too. A friend recently recounted a story of a conversation she had where the person on the other side of the conversation was incredulous that she was a Christian because all the other Christians they knew apparently wanted to let him know how wrong he was. She treated him with respect and gained a friend, and an opportunity to minister in the future.
What has happened to us as followers of Christ when we have become so demanding that others follow God’s rules that we come off as harsh and unloving; that my friend’s example of worrying less about being right and enforcing that on others and more about showing the love of God is an exception instead of the rule…so to speak. This passage in Luke is a reminder that when Jesus spoke harshly to any groups of people, that harshness was reserved for those that claimed the mantle of a special relationship with God. We should worry more about the way we deal with others (justice) and showing the love of God than in making sure the other guy is following our understanding of “the rules.” What’s going to matter in 100 years: that we got someone to behave like we think they should, or that people experienced the love of God when they encounter us.
Oh Lord, how easy it is to depend on a set of rules rather than loving others the way You love them. Help me to show justice in my dealings with others and let Your love flow through me.