Did you hear about the decision made by the Republican Party leadership in Colorado not to allow their caucus attendees to cast a vote for their preferred presidential candidate? It’s getting a lot of press at the moment. They decided to change the rules last summer, and lots of folks didn’t know about it. Now that they do, the move has shocked and infuriated a considerable percentage of the would-be Republican voters in that state. The mainstream media is convulsing with excitement because finding large groups of shocked and infuriated folks tends to affect media people that way. They begin to salivate and twitch, much like a hungry hound dog would if you waved a meat bone under its nose. And it gets even worse if the infuriated people happen to be Republicans and if the issue can be linked to dirty politics.
But I digress. The interesting thing about the Colorado story is the level of outrage that resulted from the discovery that familiar rules governing caucus procedures had been changed, and people felt disenfranchised—a fancy word for
being unfairly kicked out of the process. It reminds me of a time in my earlier days when I played baseball with a thrown-together ‘league’ of young adults. No organized league options existed for us, but we wanted to play ball on a regular basis, so we got a bunch of guys together and recruited some teams. Our ‘league’ was not comprised of guys whose conduct was conducive to building good moral character, or even allowing it to survive. Before most of the games got past mid-point, we’d get into some kind of fracas over something, usually connected with a call by one of the umpires. Our volunteer umpires were notorious for imbibing adult beverages, and some of them would begin to demonstrate the mood-altering effects of their refreshment choices by the 3rd or 4th inning. After that, the rule book was subject to instant, and sometimes radical, revision.
In one instance, I was called out running from first to second base because my hat blew off. The ump declared that I was out of uniform, and that I was also guilty of interference—out of uniform because my hat blew off, and guilty of interference because the umpire said that my hat was distracting. If he would’ve had to make a call (which he didn’t), watching my hat flopping around all over the place would have totally wrecked his concentration and messed with his judgment mechanism. We angrily contested that there was no such rule, whereupon he clarified his position on the matter by declaring that my mother had physical and moral attributes that raised questions about the biological species of all of her offspring. Some of the team members threw their hats in the dirt in protest, and one who was slightly less drunk than the umpire called for a motion that we fire the inebriated official on the spot and try to find another one. The current umpire denounced the suggestion, loudly proclaiming that such a thing could not be done, claiming some rule that said umpires could not be fired in the middle of an inning, and further, that the motion was out of order because meetings can’t be held on Sunday and we didn’t have a quorum anyway. That game ended like most of them did, lots of anger, lots of yelling, lots of ‘declaring’, but no resolution. I did get a couple of hits, but when the rules keep changing, nobody really wins.
The frustration going on in Colorado’s political world, and the impromptu antics of our short-lived and thoroughly dysfunctional baseball ‘league’ illustrate the conflict we human beings are prone to have with rules. Having them is a problem, and not having them is a problem, but one thing is undeniable. Like it or not, God always shows up with a set of rules and we take issue with them.
The Jews in Jesus’ day were inundated and enmeshed with a myriad of rules, all of which were declared by their leadership to have been required by God. The truth is that for the religious hierarchy, the rules were a means of exploiting and controlling others, and of sustaining their own power and authority. They presented the rules as a kind of key to heaven’s door, and obedience to them held the promise of acceptance and access. Sadly, those who tried to practice them, soon discovered that the very rules that would supposedly open the door to their grandest hope became the bars that denied them entry.
Jesus came to deal with the rules, not to change them, or replace them, or to render them irrelevant or ineffective. He came to obey every one of them perfectly on behalf of those who couldn’t. He validated their worth, demonstrated their virtue, fulfilled their intent, and absorbed the consequences of their violation for those who would put their faith in Him.
Had they been denied the coercive effect of their rules, the religious leaders in Jesus’ day would have been stripped of their power over people. Applying rules requires no love, demands no sacrifice, and leaves no place for compassion. Rules are impersonal. They feel cold, aloof, and detached from any pain and suffering their demands might inflict on those they touch. Jesus didn’t change the rules, but He inserted love into the equation. The rules began to look different when people began to see the heart of the One who gave them. They learned that instead of the rules being forced on them by a harsh, impersonal ‘Lawmaker’ who wanted to keep them from something good, they were, instead, the effort by a loving Father to protect them from things that are harmful. Then, when His rules were broken, and bad choices were made anyway, the loving giver of rules was willing to take upon Himself the penalty of their violation.
The leaders in Israel were so infuriated at what Jesus seemed to be doing to their rules that they conspired to manipulate those very rules to kill Him. Paradoxically, in doing that they revealed the power and glory of one of God’s greatest ‘rules’; that is, that the sins and condemnation of a guilty party may be transferred to an innocent one who is willing to take them – and the value of an innocent party can be transferred to a guilty one who has the faith to receive it.
© 2016 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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