A Boston-Globe article reported this past December that New Hampshire’s state drug abuse and prevention program was turned down for a $17 million grant for one reason alone. The Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said that the state’s application for the grant was typed with smaller margins than permitted. The state of New Hampshire wasn’t given a second chance. The decision of the Administration was final. Sorry folks, no help available for drug addicts in New Hampshire. The margins weren’t right.
When I read about this incident on the Internet, it reminded me of some of the victims of legalism I’ve met along the way. The law doesn’t care about people. Rules are the only thing that matter to the legalist.
There was the pastor who told me about how one night his wife never came home from work while they were in seminary. He laid awake worrying and praying all night. He had already called the police the next morning when his wife finally called. She informed him that she had been having an affair with somebody at work and had spent the night with that man. She called to tell her seminary-student-husband that she was leaving him.
The young man went to school that morning broken hearted. Due to what had happened, he arrived late. He spoke to the professor of the class he had missed and asked permission to make up the test which had been given that day in class. Despite the fact that he shared the painful details of the night before, his professor told him that to give him a chance to make up the test would be against the rules. He advised this broken hearted student that he needed to speak to the academic dean to get special permission.
When he spoke to the academic dean, he was told that he would immediately be expelled from school because he wouldn’t be allowed to continue his preparation for the pastorate if he was divorced. After all, if he couldn’t hold a marriage together, how could he lead a church? Not so much as an encouraging word was offered.
I’m reminded of another friend – Frank. His wife’s brother was diagnosed with AIDs. Frank and Betty lovingly brought her brother into their home to care for him. Frank was a pastor. His church couldn’t handle it. After all, it was the man’s misbehavior that had brought on the AIDs disease to start with.
Even in my own family, I once asked a staff member in a church we attended years ago if he would have someone in the young adult department of the church reach out to my son who had suffered a serious, life-threatening accident. “Is he in a small group?” I was asked. “No,” I responded. “That’s what he needs to do,” I was told. “He needs to get into a small group.” Our small groups are set up to minister to each other.” My son never got the contact. I guess membership in the small group really was important in that church.
Rules, procedures, regulations – that’s what the law is all about.
But that’s not what Jesus is about. He’s about people. His focus is relationships, not rules. What matters to Him is love, not laws.
I think Jesus would have wept over the young pastor whose wife left him. I believe that Jesus is proud of Frank and Betty for how they cared for her brother. I believe Jesus loved my son in his need even when the church wouldn’t give him the time of day.
I believe Jesus cares about drug addicts and homosexuals, about divorcees and outcasts. I think Jesus passionately loves the ones that repulse the rule-keeping, self-righteous pharisees. I’m glad Jesus isn’t like some people who go to church every Sunday.
Do you want Jesus to live through you? Then love somebody that others don’t tend to love. Reach out to the one who has nothing to offer in return. Love them unconditionally. Love them generously. Love them passionately. When you do so, your Father will smile with pleasure – because you’ll be acting just like His Son.