Laws codify human experience; they are written to govern one situation and then judges have to decide how they apply to new situations. Lawyers are always looking for loopholes to allow their clients to avoid payments out and to maximize payments in. Justice can be bought. Laws are always one step behind good decision making.
This is all inevitable if we choose to make only the law our master. Paul is offering a new way in which we recognize the spirit of God within those with whom we deal and modify our behaviour accordingly, whether the law permits us to behave less honourably or not. Although this appears to be one more restriction on our activities, it is actually a liberation.
Today’s parallel reading in Matthew 13 is Jesus’ story of the sower: “The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.” The same theme: life more abundant if only we accept the spirit of God as the first ruler of our actions, rather than seeking wealth at any cost or seeking to obey laws slavishly.
It is easy to see the fault in other people; how those richer than ourselves use the law to their own advantage; and, of course, it is easier to abuse people if you are rich. It is more difficult for those of us who are men to see how women can be oppressed by our, often unconscious, misogynistic actions. More difficult to see ourselves as the envied rich who use the law to detain failed asylum seekers, to dispossess those with too many bedrooms, to withdraw benefits from those who cannot work. More difficult still to see ourselves from the perspective of those fighting to free Iraq from corruption (again) who have reason to hate us all for our wasteful, affluent, lifestyles, and for the imperialistic interventions we support when we just know what is good for other people.
The more affluent we are the more difficult, and necessary, it is to ask the question “should we?” about actions that we can afford to take; about actions that we are permitted to take within the law. Blessed are the poor because they are freed from these dilemmas. The law cannot secure justice and equity; such love requires a very special spirit abroad. Let’s try to catch it.
Mervyn posts a reflection each week. Please join in; he welcomes comments.