|"Don't touch the plates. They're hot."|
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Anyone who has recently seen me without my Mass vestments on can usually tell that my vestments have been in need of a little attention. Buttons have been missing the cloth covering, a few seams were torn here and there, a tear on one has been held together by safety pins for months, they’re a little too short, and admittedly no longer black but more of a dark gray. I’ve known this for a while. It actually began about a year ago when I went home and my mom told me it was time to start looking at getting new cassocks. I said ‘ok’ and continued on with life as normal. Next time I went home, the same exchange. Over the course of several months it happened more often than not when I would go home and it began to bother me a bit. Each time it was said I received it less as a critique of my clothing and more a critique of me; that there was something wrong with me. After months of the ‘you need new cassocks’ and ‘ok’ exchange mom finally just told me we were going to the store to look at the selection and so we went. I was already a bit worked up that day from other things and the cassock-critiques had worn pretty hard on me. Mom was looking at the rack of cassocks, all of which I didn’t like for some particular reason, and I was about 15 feet away looking at candlesticks. Her good friend joined us at the store and the two of them were talking and mom mentioned my cassock and she didn’t like how rough they were looking, this with me in earshot. In a moment of frustration I lost it and said something to the effect of ‘Well I guess I should consider it an act of charity that I don’t get to go home much these days, that way you don’t have to see me in it.’ As soon as the words came out my mouth I could feel things change. It hurt her and I knew it.
Very few words were exchanged after that. We rode silently to lunch and sat quietly at the table, each of us paying attention to other things around us rather than talking to each other. After lunch she dropped me off and I came back to the rectory. I was still upset and she was too. After a couple of days stewing things over I called her and apologized for what I had said and done and we experienced reconciliation and healing. I mention healing specifically because there was a wound that was inflicted, not to skin and bone, but to a relationship.
In the readings for today we hear a good bit about commandments, the law of God and the traditions of men. The commandments are good and holy things, but the problem is that most of us are never really sorry for breaking rules. I remember only one time in my life when I apologized to a rule for breaking it and that was in driver’s ed. Our teacher, Mrs. Paige, had a policy that any time we broke one of the rules of the road that we had to get out an apologize to the sign indicating the broken rule. I broke the speed limit (go figure!) and had to apologize to the sign for my infraction. After giving it a hug for good measure – I was and still am a bit weird – I hopped back in the car and off we went. I wasn’t really sorry for the rule being broken though. In fact most of the time I’ve felt sorrow for breaking rules it was more honestly sorrow that I had been caught.
That’s understandable when it comes to things like traffic laws and such. The problem is that we often and easily apply this laissez faire approach to commandments to the relationship that we’re invited to have with God our Father.
When we treat sins like mere rules and laws, we turn God our Father into the God our Master – a divine rule maker who we don’t have to care about personally but for whom we must ‘stay in line.’ To do this is to miss one of the greatest gifts that we have been given by God, namely, adoption in His Son. We are the Father’s adopted sons and daughters and He loves us as His own children. But that doesn’t mean He lets us simply do whatever we please. God never commands us to do or not do things ‘just because.’ There is always a purpose and reason. When my mom and I were sitting quietly in the restaurant, the waiter brought out our plates and told to us ‘Don’t touch the plates. They’re hot.’ I wasn’t upset that I couldn’t touch my plate. I appreciated that our waiter saved me the trouble of getting burned trying to reposition things. In the same way a father tells their child ‘don’t touch that’ to numerous things – open flames, open ovens, ant beds, etc. – all in the name of love. He does it not to restrict freedom but to preserve the child from pain. And the commandments of God? The exact same. I could go around committing all sorts of sins and reaping the rewards of physical, spiritual, and emotional pain and suffering and learn not to do those things eventually. Or I can simply listen to the Word of the Lord saying ‘my son, don’t do that, it’s not good for you’ and trust the Father who is showing His concern.
Last weekend we were faced with the call of Joshua to ‘decide today whom you will serve.’ Let us choose today once more not to serve a master of laws, but instead to embrace our Father. As we pray that prayer given so many years ago, may our hearts well up today with the joy of indeed being children of God and help us always to seek deeper union with our Father.