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As far as rules go, Christianity needs to graduate to a higher understanding. Christianity is much more than a list of ‘no’s.
G.K. Chesterton uses the image of a what rules are for: Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground. Christianity is the only frame which has preserved the pleasure of Paganism. We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff's edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased.
Jesus raises the bar here, because he wants the people to see the true meaning of all the prescriptions of the Law. The purpose of the Law is to work its way inwards to the heart of the person. Sinful human nature, with its tendency towards sin, needs to be worked on, and the easiest place to start that work of untwisting the lies of the devil is in our actions. The law is all about external actions, things that can be measured. These almost always take time to think about and take a real conscious decision to enact. When we begin to control our behavior, it should strengthen us for the next step, the mind, our thoughts, and then finally the passions, which are certainly much more difficult to overcome but can be healed by God’s grace.
So Jesus raises the bar from the Old Law today in all kinds of ways for this reason: that there is something more out there for us. The rules Jesus gives are not ends in themselves. They have a goal that we cannot forget. When we forget the goal of human perfection, holiness, the ability to love at such a high pitch that our lives become the salt of the earth and the light of the world, - when we forget that, Christianity looks like a bunch of silly rules. Like my family’s rule that shoes had to go upstairs. Why, dad? I don’t wear shoes upstairs… “Because your mother and I are the parents and you are the kids, and we said so.” In just the same way, Christianity because rather unattractive when we don’t see the point of the rules.
It can happen in many different parts of life where we get caught up in the rules and forget that there is a reason for them that goes beyond them.
Soccer, basketball, baseball, any sport they all have lots of rules. But the rules have a higher purpose: the beauty of the game played well.
Music too has rules. Playing piano or guitar or another musical instrument has all kinds of things that say: do it this way, not this way. But the rules have a higher purpose: the beauty of music performed well.
Was Michael Jordan breaking the rules all the time? No. But did he play for something more than the rules? Definitely.
Did Mozart or Beethoven have to learn the rules of music and how to play piano? Certainly. But did they stay focused on the rules forever? No way!
So too for us as Christians: we must learn the rules in our head, but more importantly live them so well that they become part of us – automatic so to speak. Then we can really get more and more free into the beauty of the Christian life.