The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked,
“Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” (from yesterday’s readings)
[In the sit-com version of the scripture that plays in my head when I hear these stories, Jesus rolls his eyes and whines “Oh brother” and you hear a voice-over of him saying “here they go with the ‘is it lawful’ stuff again!” Depending on how sit-com-y I’m feeling, pratfalls ensue.]
Is it lawful? I imagine that to Jesus that was the same as “is this going to be on the test?” The teacher is conflicted: of course I want them to learn the material. But I want them to learn it because it has intrinsic value, not because it might be on the test!!
In this particular instance, Jesus turns the law its head. And in a way I feel bad for the Pharisees, because that’s the game they were used to playing, the game of “what is lawful?”. And most of them really thought they were doing the right thing.
I’m a textbook bleeding-heart, in that I feel bad for the Pharisees. I may also be textbook in that I want to know more than “is it lawful?”. In fact, I become wildly aggravated when I hear people ask the 21st century of that question (although I feel for them because they’re trying to do the right thing, etc)
Allow me to submit my humble opinion that “is it lawful?” isn’t the question we should be asking after a certain age (see Matthew 5:17). Perhaps a better question is “is this an expression of love?”
People think that following the law is so rigid, and in its way it is. But once you submit to it, it is not. There are lists of things you can and can’t do, and you must bind yourselves to those lists. On the surface it sounds strenuous, but an automaton can do that.
Is this an expression of love? Asking myself that question day after day is the hardest challenge I’ve ever faced. I have to look inside myself, I have to look intensely at my circumstances, and I have to commit to doing that forever. There is nothing static about looking at my actions that way.
Jesus said he came not to abolish the law but to complete it. Should we think that would be easy. To ask over and over if what we do is an expression of love is grueling. But it may be a better question than “is it lawful?”.