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Rector's Reflection: The Love of Law or the Law of Love, June 1, 2024

Beloved Members of St. Martin’s,


This Sunday in our gospel reading from Mark, we will hear Jesus and his disciples being accused by the Pharisees of breaking the Law, of violating the values of the Jewish faith. In particular, Jesus is accused of ignoring the Law regarding the keeping of the Sabbath as a time when no work is to be done. He is especially criticized for healing a man--- in the synagogue, no less-- on the Sabbath day.


The keeping of a sabbath day of rest from work is one of the singular features of the Jewish—and for many centuries, the Christian-- faith. When I was a kid, I lived in a state that had so-called “Blue Laws” on the books that required that all businesses, except gas stations, be closed until noon on Sunday, and forbade the sale of alcohol altogether. These “Blue Laws” originated in Connecticut, which was founded by the Puritans in 1630. “Blue Laws” regulated moral behavior, especially on the Sabbath Day, outlawing shuffleboard, travel, sales of liquor, and failing to attend worship. Ironically, they may have received their name from Episcopalians within the colony who were dissenters against these laws’ harshness, since being “blue” meant being rigid, dour, and legalistic; being a killjoy, in other words.


Jesus is not saying that there is no need for the Law, or for law, in general. The original intention of setting the Sabbath apart from work was to make that time holy—a time for reflecting upon all the good gifts God has given us. Jesus IS criticizing legalism—turning the Law, or law in general, into an object of worship rather than a tool for living in community peacefully and equitably. But the just, yet merciful, enforcement of law is a critical component of any equitable society, and the just enforcement of THE Law is no different. Both religious and secular law must have at the heart of their intention the formation of an equitable, enlightened society dedicated to the common good.


There is obviously a difference of opinion here between the Pharisees and Jesus. Of course Jesus—and the Law, to be clear—prioritizes healing over the injunction to rest on the sabbath. But before we go off railing at the Pharisees, let’s remember that far too often we modern Christians devolve into legalistic rule worshippers rather than healers and protectors. In following Jesus, the primary law is the law of love, rather than hammering anyone different from us with prooftexts divorced from compassion and empathy as all of us fall short of being perfect adherents to the discipline that is part and parcel of being disciples.


This dispute between Jesus and his critics goes deeper, as Jesus points out. The bigger question posed is this: how do we best live a faithful life, and how do our laws reflect our commitment and obligations to each other in a just society? This is a question that I believe we are all invited to wrestle with, especially now in our own lives, both religious and secular.


Especially as we enter Pride month, legalism—especially as a way of privileging “law and order” over real justice rooted in real equality for all-- is a problem in some precincts of the Church today. Make no mistake about it. And that legalism has driven away thousands of people who come to us hearing about the loving, healing stories of Christ and look to us for similar grace and mercy and love, but receiving condemnation and ostracism instead. As faithful people ourselves saved by grace, we are called not to a love of the law, but to living out a law of love.


In Christ,

Mother Leslie+

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