This homily is going to be about rules.
Many times we Catholics, and Christians in general,
are accused of being all about rules.
A lot of times, that’s what it all seems to be about.
It is true that many times the rules get a lot of the emphasis.
For one reason, rules are extremely helpful.
A child may or may not grasp why something is dangerous,
even after you patiently explain it.
So mom or dad just says, “don’t touch!”
When I was in the seminary, Father Mike Seger –
who has now gone to eternity –
taught me something very valuable which I will now share with you.
He explained that, quote, “rules exist to protect values.”
Let me repeat that: “rules exist to protect values.”
The truth is, very often it isn’t higher-ups who are saying,
“here’s the rule, follow it.”
Rather, it’s you and me preferring to boil it all down to a rule,
because that’s a lot easier.
Think of two employees at a place of business.
The first employee is very precise.
Work starts at 7:30, so she’s there right at 7:30.
And she’s at the door at the stroke of quitting time.
She takes it, and knows exactly how many minutes are allotted.
Otherwise, she is at her work station, carefully completing her tasks.
She knows what her job is – and what it isn’t.
She’s the one who says, “I’m sorry, but that’s not my job.”
The second employee really likes her job and is grateful for it.
She feels a sense of obligation to her employer and to her customers.
She wants to do well herself, and she wants the company to do well.
So: she makes sure to show up first thing,
and doesn’t mind eating lunch at her desk.
If the boss needs someone to pitch in on a project or to stay late,
she is willing.
If she sees a problem, she speaks up and tries to help find a solution,
before it gets out of hand.
Both these employees are honest and do their work.
What’s the difference?
One is all about the rules. She knows them backwards and forwards.
The other is all about the mission. What are we here for?
It’s so easy to focus on the rules:
How many minutes before communion can I have a snack?
How far is too far with my girlfriend?
How many drinks before I’ve had too much?
Rules are necessary, like guardrails;
but who drives with your car skidding along the guardrail?
So when it comes to your daily spiritual life,
Or when it comes to taking part in Holy Mass,
or the sacrament of confession,
the rules can be helpful – but they aren’t the point!
Scripture scholar John Bergsma, who I quote from time to time,
superbly summarizes the point of this Gospel.
The Pharisees, he said, were pursuing
“a righteousness that said,
‘What is the least I have to do and the most I can get away with,
and still not formally break the divine command?’
“Jesus attitude . . . is rather, ‘What is most pleasing to God?
That is the only thing I desire to do.’”
It’s so easy to focus on the rules.
But what gives us life is JESUS!
Rules are worthwhile, they help us.
But they cannot save us.
For that we need is Jesus himself.
Focus on him. Talk to him. Know him.