Wednesday, 10th Week OT
Back in my day grounded meant no phone, no TV, no after school involvements, and worst of all – no friends. Straight to school, straight home…it was a teenager’s solitary confinement, and truth be told, I would have rather spent a week at Riker’s Island than to be grounded for a week. At least inmates get to use the phone every once in a while. Gosh Mom!!! (She’ll be reading this on the blog later…) Gosh Mom – why’d you have to be such a meanie? Kids today would call the ACLU I they ever got grounded the way I got grounded – and courts today would probably rule in their favor!
I was a pretty good kid, truth be told – but a little too crafty for my own good. Mom and Dad stayed a step ahead of me, though. And the only times I can ever remember really being in trouble was when I was trying to outsmart them to get around a pretty clear and fair rule of the house. Getting grounded for me might have gone something like this:
‘Alan Vaughn! Why is your mid-term full of C’s and D’s?’ I never really got bad final grades…but it usually took a conversation like this to get me focused enough to remember being in school was primarily about learning. ‘How is this possible – you’ve been telling me every single day that you finished all the homework you brought home before you went to hang out with Matt!’
‘But Mom…I did always finish all the homework I brought home before I went to hang out with Matt.’ In short – I complied with the law. Right? Some of you are smiling because you know where this is headed. ‘Honey – how is that possible? Mrs. Norman…’ (Mrs. Norman was my math teacher all the way through High School…Calculus, Geometry, Trig…she was excellent. Only problem was, I always thought of Math homework as sort of stupid – I’d already learned all the stuff in class that day, what was the use of doing it over and over again 30 times for homework?) ‘Mrs. Norman says you’ve turned in less than half of your homework so far this semester! Are you lying to me about your homework?’
‘No, Mom. I’m not lying, honest! I always finish all the homework I bring home before I go hang out with my friends…but Math homework is stupid – sometimes I don’t bring it home.’
Boom. Grounded. No phone. No friends. Even worse – I had to explain myself why I was grounded when my friends called or came by and then hang up or ask them to leave. I’m still convinced I could win a ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ case for such horrible treatment.
I thought I was being crafty with the ‘law of the house’ – but I get it honest. People have acted this way toward the law since Mt. Sinai. I can hear Aaron saying to Moses now… ‘But there’s no law that says we can’t dump all our gold in the fire and see what jumps out at us!’ How do you think we went from the ten commandments of Exodus to the chapters upon chapters of legal code that we find in Leviticus?
Jesus represents a change in perspective toward the law. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish but to fulfill.” You see – true to my human heritage, my perspective toward the homework law was one of strict compliance. And that got me trouble. Why? Because I was failing to embrace the purpose of the law – to engender in me the virtue of responsibility, to teach me to value learning, so form me into a person who wanted to do what was necessary to improve myself. To get me there, we had to add ‘bring all the homework you are assigned home’ to ‘finish all the homework you bring home’. Just like God had to add rules and regulations about what could and could not be done on the Sabbath to the 3rd Commandment.
When it comes to ‘the law’, Jesus comes to fulfill it by changing our fundamental perspective toward the law from compliance to obedience. “Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Obedience – getting completely on board with the law and the law-giver and the ultimate transformative purpose of the law – that’s how we fulfill the law.
For next couple of days our Gospel readings will help us see (and hopefully respond to) this groundbreaking idea in the particular examples Jesus will give us using the ‘you have heard that it was said – But I say to you’ formula. That could easily be translated into ‘the insufficient notion of compliance means x – but obedience looks like y’. You see – Jesus comes to bring us into a relationship with God and God’s law that will change our hearts and minds to be more in tune with God’s love, God’s plan, and the fulfillment of all our true desires in perfect relationship with Him. Compliance is about me – finding a way to do what I want, how I want to do it, when I want to do it; compliance is a self-centered and selfish bobbing and weaving through the loopholes in the law. Obedience is about God – coming into harmony with Divine Love. Oboedire . Ob – to turn toward, to orient oneself completely in the direction of…audire – hearing. A completely receptive posture toward God.
Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I wonder – what’s our posture toward God’s law, toward the Church’s authentic and divinely inspired teaching of that law? In the confessional – as a penitent or even as a confessor – are we living in the loopholes, or striving to orient ourselves toward the transformation of heart that Jesus’ fulfillment of the law hopes to bring about. (Don’t get me wrong – we can’t ever let go of the letter of the law, that’s at least where it starts – and ‘not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law – Jesus didn’t come to permit non-compliance – ‘whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teachers other to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven’. He just wants our compliance to become obedience.) As teachers of the law in relationship with The Master Teacher, do we zero in on dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s so much that we fail to teach, model, encourage, and empower obedience?
“Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”