There Are Always Exceptions
Some folks really like rules. I am not really one of them. But there are some folks who see rules as a guide or compass that makes life straightforward and easy enough to manage. The basic idea is that if you follow the rules, you will be safe and have opportunity for a good life.
My trouble with rules is that there are always exceptions. Its like learning spelling or grammar in school. You can learn a general rule, but there are always a number of words that simply do not fit with those neat and tidy rules. For example, that infamous spelling rule: “i” before “e”…EXCEPT after “c”…and EXCEPT words like neighbor, science and deity. There are just so many exceptions to this rule that it really is not a hard and fast rule at all. It’s more like a “rule of thumb.”
Jesus is not a big rule-follower. He always seems to find exceptions to the rules of his day. And so he breaks rules all the time, such as those about Sabbath observance and healing. He changes and modifies rules, such as all the “You have heard it said…, but I say to you…” passages. So, I feel like I am in pretty good company with my reluctance about rules.
And yet…even I realize that life would be dangerous, frightening, and simply crazy without some guidelines to show us the way forward. This is probably why Jesus says that his intent in breaking and changing the rules is not about getting rid of them, but instead about fulfilling them. Jesus shows us a way forward that is about focusing on the spirit of a rule, not the letter of the law. And, as I said on Sunday, I believe the spirit of all the rules in the Bible has to do with choosing life. (And if you missed Sunday, listen here)
Now, the Bible is filled with rules -in fact, that is a reason why some folks have such a hard time with the Bible. And no where are more rules found than in the book of Leviticus, which, coincidentally, just happens to be the least read book of the Bible. (Apparently most of us have a reluctance about rules!) In fact, this is the only week where the Lectionary, our weekly list of scripture readings, has us read from Leviticus.(Clearly, the Lectionary does not like rules either.)
Here’s the thing: Leviticus has some great rules in it! Here’s some examples from our reading this week:
- you must not steal nor deceive nor lie to each other (Lev 19:11)
- do not withhold a hired laborer’s pay overnight (Lev 19:13)
- you must not act unjustly in a legal case (Lev 19:15)
- do not show favoritism or go around slandering Lev 19:15)
- you must not take revenge nor hold a grudge (Lev 19:18)
These are all great rules or guidelines for working people like you and me. And yet…there are other rules in Leviticus that we would struggle with. For example,
- do not crossbreed your livestock or plant your field with two kinds of seed (Lev 19:19)
- do not wear clothes made from two kinds of material (Lev 19:19)
- do not cut off the hair on your forehead or clip the ends of your beard (Lev 19:27)
- no man who has any defect may come near [to make an offering to God]: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed no man with a crippled foot or hand (Lev 21:18-19)
I bet we could find an exception or problem with every one of these rules. And, of course, Jesus does. For example, in Matthew 5:43, Jesus modifies the rule in Leviticus 19:18. We cannot just love our neighbor, as Leviticus commands. Jesus adds that we must love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. So, we cannot read any of these rules in Leviticus without understanding:
- the spirit of the rules it gives to us and
- the trajectory of all scripture, ie God’s story (as we spoke about this past Sunday)
The spirit of Leviticus is about establishing a way of life for Israel that is lived in the image of God. And, in the instance about loving others, Jesus makes the trajectory of the Leviticus rule clear: love cannot stop with just neighbors, it must be extended to all, even enemies.
So, check out Leviticus, especially our Lectionary verses this week (Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18). And as you read this “rule book,” be sure to consider the spirit of the rule and the trajectory of God’s story. You never know, one day you might find that you are the neighbor who needs the exception.
Valentine’s Brunch for Children & Families – This Saturday, 9-11am at The Cellar
Be sure to invite a family with small children to attend!