Rules vs. Revelation

For the readings, please see this link: 10th Sunday Ordinary Time Year C Readings PDF

I found a new way to make my morning commute a bit easier, as the stoplights and people moving from parking decks to office buildings in Midtown Atlanta can make the last quarter mile an enervating finale to what otherwise is an easy commute. (I do like easy.) My new wrinkle is to turn left on a back street and approach my office parking deck from what is hardly more than an alley. My left turn is easy because the turn is from a one-way street to another one-way street/alley. Sometimes, however, I find a car facing me on my one-way street/alley. A fellow has decided to take his own shortcut out of his parking lot or office building, and he is facing me as I head to the office.

As the Apollo astronauts said, “Houston, we have a problem.” My shortcut and his shortcut conflict with each other. It is at points of conflict we turn to someone for justice. When we were little children, it was our parents. In civics we turn to the judges sitting on the benches of the various court systems. There we find rules, rules of behavior that our parents teach us and rules of law that our governments created for us. The rule that applies to my shortcut is that the street is clearly marked as a one-way street, and I am the party that is conforming to the rule. The other driver has violated the rule. This brings me to a dangerous place: I am right and I am in the right.

What should I do upon arriving at this position of moral and legal rectitude? If I apply the rules, then I could just wait for him to acknowledge his error and back up until he is safely off the road and I can proceed in the legal direction. I can bend the rules but add a dash of vinegar to the situation: wave my finger at him and begrudgingly give him just enough room to let me squeeze by verrrrry slooooowwwly while he hangs his head in shame. This is the moral rectitude trifecta, in which I was right, I was magnimous, and I taught that jerk a lesson.

God offers an entirely new way to approach the problem of misbehavior. It is an offer of supernatural justice, something that we cannot reach on our own but can accept and adopt in whole as a free gift from him and a gift we freely share with his other children. We innately turn to God for justice because for justice, as in all things, our hearts were made for him and are restless until they rest in him. Jesus made this offer plainly to his disciples when he said, “Abide in my love.” [Jn 15:9] This love and this justice are entirely beyond our comprehension but not beyond our sensing or our reception. While we cannot fully understand them, we can see them and believe them.

The widow of Zarephath knew where true justice was to be found when she challenged Elijah for bringing God’s judgment upon her house and causing the death of her son. She saw something in Elijah that spoke of God and justice. She saw in herself someone deserving judgment. So she asked, “Why have you done this to me, O man of God? Have you come to me to call attention to my guilt and to kill my son?” [1 Kings 17:17] She had been hosting Elijah and feeding them from a jar of flour and jug of oil that he promised would not run out until the end of the drought. During this period, her child became sick to the point of death. She was experiencing God’s love, yet she could not work herself logically to a point of acceptance of her child’s death. Her heart cried out for justice, which she at some interior level understood is synonymous with God’s love and mercy. She knew what she deserved – death – but she wanted more – life.

God hears our wants. He hears our prayers. He loves us. When Elijah prayed for the child, life returned to him. St. Luke tells a similar story of God hearing our prayers and loving us in chapter 7’s story of Jesus responding to the cry of a widow in the city called Naim. St. Luke tells us, “When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ He stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, and he said, ‘Young man, I tell you, arise!’ The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.”

Like the widow of Zarephath, the widow in the city of Naim saw and believed. These miracles are miraculous because they override the rules of physics and medicine. We, caught in the net of rationalistic approaches to everything, cannot see how such rules could be overridden and we discard miracles as foolish superstitions and self-delusions. But miracles are real, just as real as God’s love. Miracles are God demonstrating his love for us to the point of violating the order he established for the universe he created. Just as a painter can dab a bit of red in a place where blue “ought” to go, God can dab a bit of life in a place where death “ought” to go. Why did he do it? Because he willed that it be done. The artist chose red instead of blue, and it was so. God chose life over death for these two men, and it was so. The witnesses to these miracles know the truth more deeply than they can ever know any logical truth. They know it in their hearts, which find rest in this Truth, the Truth that is Jesus Christ.

St. Paul was visited by this Truth on the road to Damascus, which he recounts to the Galatians at the beginning of his letter to that church. He did not receive the Good News from a human; God “was please to reveal his Son to me” and through Paul reveal the Good News to the Gentiles. Subsequent to the revelation of Truth, Paul was able to see that much of what he believed to be true in his former life was in fact no longer true. He could not reason beyond the rules which he had learned from his youth. He had to receive the gift of revelation from God, and with that Truth he also received Mercy for his past persecution of the Christian Church and strength to be the Apostle to the Gentiles and endure his own persecution and martyrdom.

You and I are offered the same gift. Many of us have experienced miracles directly or we know people who received them directly. There is no sufficient explanation; it is just a gift. We see things as they really are, and we accept them. We are, like St. Paul, asked to share the gift. Where the rules might lead us is not necessarily where God wants us to go. Having seen the Truth, we are invited to respond to the Truth. Having received Love, we are asked to give Love. When a person does somthing deserving of judgment, we are invited to offer mercy and compassion. This applies to little things as well as big things. It applies to drivers going the wrong way on a one-way street. It applies to you. It applies to me

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