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  • Writer's pictureFr. Austin

"Rules Are Meant to Be Broken"

“Rules are meant to be broken!” How many have ever heard that before? How many have ever said it?! Often, if I say that we “must” do something because “that’s the rule,” someone will reply that “rules are meant to be broken,” as if this is some special wisdom that has somehow advanced the world to a golden age. “Rules are meant to be broken.”

What a stupid saying!

Are bones meant to be broken, then?

What about marriage vows?

What about any other promises that we might make?

Simply putting something into quotations or painting it on a pretty placard on your living room wall does not make silly things wise. However, very often, our reaction to rules is to resist them in favor of our own designs and our own personal freedom. But the rules we have (justly speaking, of course) are there for the sake of order, peace, and love. The attitude that would either resist or outright break rules is one of chaos, and it will lead to chaos.

Today, we hear of God’s gift of the Law to His People on Mount Sinai – the Ten Commandments. Have you ever heard someone refer to the Ten Commandments and assert, “these are meant to be broken”? I would hope not! However, we do break them, in both subtle and spectacular ways. Again, this is the result of the forces of chaos working in our world; they are the forces of the Evil One.

The Ten Commandments, rather than being meant as restrictions on our freedom and a limitation of our potential, are indeed an expression of God’s love for His People. In fact, that is how Israel saw the Law – as a gift. They rejoiced in that gift, as Moses says in Deuteronomy: “See, I am teaching you the statutes and ordinances as the LORD, my God, has commanded me, that you may observe them in the land you are entering to possess.Observe them carefully, for this is your wisdom and discernment in the sight of the peoples, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and discerning people.’ For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has statutes and ordinances that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”

But that rejoicing in the Law has devolved into “Rules were meant to be broken.” How far have we come! So, what is the lesson today that our Scriptures set before us? How has our loving God, again, visited us and instructed us?

Full disclosure: I am one who appreciates rules. I am a judge’s son, and I “high J” on the Myers-Briggs scale. However, I think we can all agree on the value of having rules. I love to assemble LEGO sets. I have a room in the rectory full of Star Wars ships and buildings that I have put together; it’s a hobby of mine. I love that all I have to do is open a box, follow step-by-step instructions, and viola: a TIE fighter or Millennium Falcon. Rules mean order; rules mean beauty.

Even our Psalm reminds us today: “The law of the Lord is perfect … the decree of the Lord is trustworthy … the precepts of the Lord are right … the command of the Lord is clear … the ordinances of the Lord are true, and all of them just. They are more precious than gold.” If this is true, and we truly believe what we proclaim in Scripture, then shouldn’t we give ourselves over to the guidance and law of the Lord? Or is something “more precious than gold” meant to be broken?

Jesus enters the Temple today and cleanses it. Some would point to this rather “violent” behavior of Christ as His way of breaking the rules – of giving us an example of rebellion. However, is that really what He is doing? Jesus is God – consubstantial with the Father – the same God who gave the Law on Sinai. Would this God enter His Temple and upset things for the simplistic reason that “rules are meant to be broken”? I don’t think so.

Rather, is it the People of Israel – and us – who have already rebelled, and Christ’s actions are His way of calling us back to that “perfect Law”? Jesus wants to see the house of the Lord used for what it is really intended: worship; connection with God; prayer. This was not the case, with all the buying and selling and religious posturing going on in and around the Temple. By “cleansing” the Temple, Jesus is calling us all back to the point of worship. And worship is a structured thing at times – it is orderly (just consider our liturgies). It is a way for us as human beings to participate in the divine order, of tasting heaven on earth. That is not something that we can simply invent or make up on our own. Only God can provide that experience (even when it is experienced outside of formal worship).

“My house shall be called a house of prayer.” Jesus told those in the Temple, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” That’s His rule. It is not meant to be broken, just as the Law of Sinai is not meant to be broken. Rules are an expression of God’s love for us and of His desire to lead us more deeply into the divine order. As we taste the Eucharist, the reminder of that love, may we always hunger for heaven and that divine order for which we are all created.

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