Friday, March 6, 2015

Breaking the Rules

"Love Bursts In"
- my meditation garden- 

Some significant changes have come to Saint Peter's Square this past week as Pope Francis has invited the homeless people of Rome to come and spend the night in the huge outdoor plaza just outside the great basilica. In fact the Vatican has provided sleeping bags and outdoor showers are available along with barbers to help the thousands of homeless people who stay in the square every night feel some sense of dignity and respect.

There was a very touching picture in this morning's paper showing Pope Francis embracing a homeless man- one of his guests that spent the night. The man's hair was all matted, his face gaunt, his dirty clothing leaving a visible smudge on the pope's starched white garments - both Francis and that homeless man had tears in their eyes. 

I was especially moved by that picture in the paper today- but not everyone saw it in the same way. In fact there are many good upstanding citizens (including long time church officials) who are quite disturbed by what Francis is doing- having all those homeless people around isn't good for the tourist business, and it's unseemly to have a pope hugging a common beggar who smears dirt and grime on the glistening papal attire. 

I was especially struck by one comment I read lamenting the onslaught of all those poor and homeless people who have invaded the Vatican, shaking up the normal routine:  "I know Pope Francis is trying to be compassionate, but doesn't he realize that he is breaking all the rules?"  

When I read that statement I literally laughed out loud - those very same words were likely said about Jesus, himself. In his life and teachings Jesus often showed that following a path of compassion sometimes (maybe often) means you have to break the rules. In fact, whenever Jesus encountered any rule that got in the way of compassion, he always broke that rule. 

There were hundreds of religious rules in Jesus' day that excluded some people and made them into social outcasts; and Jesus broke every single one of them.  

The rule said you couldn't touch sick people - Jesus kissed a leper, he healed and embraced the disfigured and the diseased who came upon his path.  The rule said you weren't supposed to eat with a public sinner - Jesus often sat at a banquet table with the most notorious "sinners" in town. The rule said that you weren't supposed to associate with gentiles and pagans - Jesus spent lots of time with gentiles, in fact he declared that he often saw great faith in people whom the rules had labeled as "unbelievers."  The rule said that poor people weren't allowed to enter the temple because they didn't have enough money to pay the temple dues - Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple and declared that God's house belongs to everyone. 

Following a path of compassion, Jesus broke plenty of rules. It got him into lots of trouble with the "powers that be" - it even got him crucified. 

I am reminded of a lyric from an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical:

Love bursts in and suddenly all our wisdom disappears.
Love makes fools of everyone- all the rules we made are broken.
Yes, love changes everything.

Jesus (along with the Buddha and many other great wisdom teachers) taught that there is only one overriding law - the law of love, and there is only one rule and that is the rule of compassion. When love bursts in that's all that counts, all the other rules we made either help us to follow the way of love or they are rules that are made to be broken. 

In this Lenten season many religious people will be thinking about keeping all the rules - the rules about fasting, the rules about saying prayers and attending church. "Keeping the rules" can be a good to thing to do, but perhaps this should also be a season to think about "breaking the rules." 

Following the way of compassion sometimes means that you have to break the rules. 

Yes, love changes everything. 

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