In college philosophy courses there’s something called a syllogism, “… a form of reasoning in which two statements or premises are made and a logical conclusion drawn from them. For example: “All mammals are warm-blooded; whales are mammals; therefore, whales are warm-blooded.” I wondered if we could apply the same principle to this week’s readings. “Rules are good; God is good; therefore rules are God.” But the syllogism limped, because rules are not God, even though sometimes we act like they are.
For the ancient Jew touching a dead body was against the rules, yet Elijah not only touched a dead boy but carried him! In fact, Elijah not only broke the rules but then went on to demand that God “…let the life breath return to the body of this child.” And surprisingly, instead of correcting Elijah for breaking the rules, God answered his prayer.
Paul was a rule follower. He persecuted the “people of the way” because they were defying his ancestral traditions. Until one day Jesus stopped him in his tracks and changed the rules. Jesus touched dead bodies. Remember, the women in these stories were widows and, according to the rules, a woman without a husband or a son had no status or power. So these women, who had already lost their husbands, would be totally without resources if they lost their sons as well. What to do? Follow the rules and leave them with no means of support? Or break the rules and retain their dignity as well as their livelihood?
We follow Jesus the Christ. When his followers challenged him about breaking the rules he told them that he had not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. How? By reminding us that it’s not about how we keep the rules but why. When someone asked, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus responded: “[Y]ou shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength … you shall love your neighbor as yourself!” Funny, he didn’t say anything about touching dead bodies …
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.