Mark 7:9-13

Then Jesus said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God)— then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.” Mark 7:9-13

One time I was talking to a lawyer friend of mine when he told me about his experience of taking the test to be admitted to the bar. He gave me the example of a complicated multiple choice question where he was supposed to pick “which of the following answers is the least wrong.” It turns out that those are really helpful real world questions because that is how it often works in the real world. Lawyers need to be able to argue both sides of disputes well.

Which is why, though it appears cynical to say, we don’t have a “justice” system in the United States, we have a “legal” system. We have an adversarial system where the goal is to win (gain the best outcome for our client) rather than a judicial system where the goal is justice. Given the sinfulness of human nature, that might be the best we can do.

That is the nature of laws functioning as boundaries on human behavior. The rules might be very clear cut but the application gets fuzzy. Think about the extraordinarily complex rules of a relatively simple game like golf. Or all of the judgment calls a baseball umpire makes or football referees make in the course of a game. In the real world, it is seldom as simple as just follow the rules.

Is it cynical or realistic to recognize that “all rules are made to be broken” or “for every law there is a loophole”?

Jesus directs these words to the Pharisees and scribes. The scribes were the lawyers, the experts in the law. The Pharisees were the parish pastors who applied the laws to the lives of the people. These were positions of great public trust. No doubt the expectations of the people were that the Pharisees and scribes knew what they were talking about. That they were honest. That they were fair. That their interpretations of the law fell into line with God’s will. Such trust is easily abused.

Central to our conception of justice is the idea that “no one is above the law.” Regardless of a person’s identity or position, no one can recklessly or intentionally break the law and get away with it. But, when you are the person with the power to interpret the law, it is much easier to twist things to your own benefit. Which is exactly what the Pharisees did when it came to their interpretation of the law concerning the care of one’s elderly parents.

God’s law is clear – take care of your parents. God is always going to side with the least powerful, the marginalized, those most in need of care. But the Pharisees twisted that to their own benefit. And, most insidiously, used God’s own rule to justify themselves.

Beware of those in positions of power who twist the rules for their own benefit, who act like they are above the law. Because those most likely to be hurt are those who are least likely to be able to defend themselves.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, guide us always to do what it right in our lives because it is the right thing to do. Help us see where we seek to justify ourselves at the expense of others, at the expense of the truth. Keep us ever mindful of the consequences of the choices we make, that we play within the rules, always for the common good. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


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