Human Precepts or God’s Law?

I’ve continued to reflect over the past week on a point I made in connection with the memorial of St. Scholastica last week – the idea that not all of our human rules are to be viewed as sacrosanct.

Jesus makes the point even more strongly in a passage from Mark’s Gospel that we listened to recently. Jesus chides the Pharisees, telling them Isaiah had them in mind when he wrote, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.” As an example, Jesus pointed to the contrast between God’s command to “Honor your father and your mother” and the human rule that allowed one to refuse to support one’s mother and father by declaring what might have gone for support qorban (dedicated to God), claiming that by such rule the Pharisees, “nullify the word of God in favor of [their] tradition] that [they] have handed on.”

Not all rules that claim to honor God in fact do so. The ultimate test of any human rule, regardless of by whom or by what claimed authority it is promulgated, has to be whether it is consistent with the law given to us by God. The simplest way to frame the test is to ask: does the rule lead to greater faith, hope and love or not? Is the rule consistent with what Jesus proclaimed as the most important commandment, that we love God and love one another? If not, it is no rule worthy of being followed.

As I reflected on this, the prayer that spontaneously arose from my heart was a prayer for wisdom and humility. I prayed for wisdom in being able to distinguish between those rules that are consonent with God’s command and those that are not, and that I have humility in my efforts to do so, recognizing that I may need help in coming to that determination.