Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wednesday in Passion Week

Leviticus 19:1, 2, 11-19 / John 10:22-38

Among gamers, there is now and again a debate, sometimes fiercely argued, between those who propose that a certain result in the game either should or should not be allowed. On the one side are those who support the "rules as written" (RAW) approach, and on the other side are those who suggest that one should play instead the "rules as intended" (RAI). Generally, the debate flare up when following the rules as written produces an unexpected result, either far more restricting than one might have desired or far more generous than one would reasonably presume. According to the RAW crowd, such results are part of the game, and being a good gamer means precisely discovering these opportunities the rules provide, maximizing positive results and minimizing the negative. In contrast, the RAI supporters note that no set of rules, however well written, could presume every eventuality, and their very wording presumes both the actual experience of normal players and their reasonable goals and expectations. On their view, one might need to overlook, even ignore, a rule as written if and when its application evidently flies in the face of the very goals the game intended.

It does not seem terribly important to resolve this ludic conflict in any global way; someone who prefers RAW should simply be aware when his fellow gamers are playing RAI, and vice versa. However, the same dispute haunts our attempts to receive in fidelity God's holy Law. Keep ye My laws. For I am the Lord your God. What the Lord God demanded of the children of Israel — refraining from theft, from deceit and lies, from swearing falsely and profaning the Lord's name, from calumny, oppression, and violence, from delaying the remuneration of workers, from taking advantage of the weak, disadvantaged, or disabled, from perverting justice through bias, from speaking ill of others truthfully or falsely, from failing to defend another's life, from sliding from just publid denunciation to hatred and revenge, and much more besides — we know to be binding not only on them, but on those reborn to new life in Jesus Christ. However, how should we be faithful? Is the moral life to be lived out RAW, and can we morally, by keeping to what is prescribed, take advantage of the unexpected liberty such an approach might afford us? Or, is the moral life a matter of RAI, and may we legitimately ignore various precepts of the Law when obeying them would seem to undermine the whole moral project? Moreover, why, if God should ask us to be just in a fallen world, does he not tell us plainly what he wants of us, rather than expect us to muddle our way through general principles to admittedly heartbreakingly difficult cases?

There is another position other than RAW and RAI, of course. Both of these approaches presume the designer of the rules, the author of the Law, is distant and inaccessible, and that his rules are perhaps less clear than we might like. However, what if the Lawgiver were closer to us that we to ourselves? What if we only have a hard time knowing what he asks of us, and what he reveals to us, to the extent that we are wandering from his flock, or even not among his sheep? Jesus assures us that when he speaks, he does so in a way that makes sense to his own sheep, the sheep of his flock — My sheep hear my voice: and I know them, and they follow Me. If he seems to evade clarity and plain speech, it is not because there is anything lacking in what he says. Rather, it is because we are listening not with the ears he renewed in our baptism, but with the ears of the old man, the man of sin.

Said differently, the life Jesus asks of us does not require difficult and tortured questions about whether we can or should apply this or that part of the Law. To the extent that we have been transformed by his saving grace, become his sheep, we will then, as though by a second nature, incline to his voice and follow wherever he leads. This is why we need not fear if we are playing the game aright. Our shepherd Jesus Christ has promised of his sheep that they shall not perish forever, and no man shall pluck them out of My hand.

Do we live the Law according to the rules as written or the rules as intended? Let us ask instead, do we hear the voice of the shepherd, and when he calls, do we follow his voice to life everlasting?

Listen to our supplications, O almighty God, and graciously bestow the effect of Thy wonted mercy upon us, to whom Thou grantest confidence in Thy loving kindness.

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