8 “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. “
I’d rather have rules. So would you. And it is not just civil society that advocates rules. Even the most criminal of organizations have just that, organization. We are all familiar with the dynamics of the mafia. Strict codes apply to every member. The rules must be followed. Living outside the rules is not to be tolerated.
The Pharisees of Jesus day were what we might call the law and order folks. They were very much concerned with the orderly conduct of society, as you may be. They were not libertine, willful people who equated freedom with license to do as they pleased, as some of you may do. They recognized that living outside the law posed a risk not only to the person who did so, but also to society as a whole. This was certainly in the mind of the high priest at the trial of Jesus, when he declared that it was better that one person die than the whole people perish. The apparent lawlessness of Jesus might spread like a virus.
There has always been something of the Pharisee in the churches. Most comfortable, middle class congregations nod approvingly at the Bible’s call to love sinners, until the sinners show up on the doorstep. This was the thrust of Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. The older brother was outraged that his younger, whore loving, money squandering brother who brought shame on the family, was welcomed back with open arms.
Churches today are filled with people and preachers whose Christianity is little more than a law and order project veiled in the thin veneer of the language of faith. Christianity is hawked as a life conforming to ‘Biblical principles’ on the one hand or to the social agenda on the other. In either case there is a tendency to look with disdain on those who do not share their particular passion for law keeping.
Love does not live outside the rules, it lives beyond the rules. I am not thinking here of the appropriate use of rules or law within civil society. Those laws are important, even crucial. As citizens we all have a stake in upholding these laws and seeing to it that new ones are developed as needed. To live beyond the rules is to recognize that love is the fulfillment of every rule, every law. This is the frightening, unknown territory where faith lives. The law and order folks, in the world and in too many churches, fear this territory and are reluctant to go there.
But Jesus was not and is not afraid to go there. And if you claim Him as your own, this freedom he has won for you at the cost of His life, is on your hands. It is a frightening gift, to be sure. But faith has no other territory in which to establish itself. You may remain in the land of dead certainties or you may venture into the frightening freedom of faith, as our Lord did, where love knows no boundaries.