Jesus broke the rules. He defied the law. He was not exactly your average "middle ground of goodness" type of guy.
Sure, he lived what seems to have been a fairly mundane, normal kinda life, for the first part anyway. Not much seems noteworthy about his first few decades, except for a brief episode of teenage angst when he freaked out his mom by not telling her he was staying behind from a family trip to the temple.
Maybe that was the first indication that this boy, this Christ Child, was not going to play by the rules. By the time Jesus of Nazareth hit his 30s, the midlife crisis kicked in and he unapologetically disrupted society, culture, religion and the world with his radical, rule-breaking, religion-defying, simple, humble life.
The Rules of Religion
For a man widely associated with the Church, the saints and all around religious conventions, Jesus was conversely sacrilegious. Just watch the sudden gasp of the crowd who stood in frozen awe as he tore apart a marketplace in the temple. With a whip. Which he'd just made. With his big, muscled, carpenter's hands.
Or feel the smouldering indignation of those who pointedly told him it was the Sabbath (clearly a holy day of pious reflection and rest), then watched in frustration and disbelief as he did the unthinkable and stretched out his hand and healed a broken man.
"Playing it safe" clearly wasn't a phrase in Jesus's vocab.
Neither was "religiosity". For some reason, the pinnacle of all our sacraments and sanctifications wasn't too fussed with making sure he walked within the clean lines that the law of religion so carefully penned.
The Rules of Culture
Nor was Jesus overly concerned with fitting into the culture of his day. Just hear the muted grumbling of the pompous, patriarchal leaders who watched in horror as he, in the midst of a dinner party of rich, proud and respectable men, blessed a woman. She who wept and snotted and collapsed all over his feet. Who doused his salt-bathed peds in perfume. And who then did the unthinkable and wiped it all down with her hair...!!??
And Jesus smiled, and forgave her, and calmly continued with the 7-course buffet like this disruptive little scene was the most normal occurrence in a woman-oppressing, religion-caressing environment.
The Rules of Expectation
By now, Jesus, the breaker and quaker of rules, had quite the reputation. Apart from his continual defiance of rules and norms, there was something glorious, something magnanimous, something incredibly powerful about this humble oxymoron of a prophet.
So the crowds clung to him, the towns rushed out to meet him, the crippled found healing at his hands, the beggars found love at his feet. "Teacher" they called him. "Rabbi" they revered him. And the great and mighty Christ surrounded himself with...
Once again, when it came to expectations, this carpenter-turned-preacher had no qualms in tossing them aside like the gambling tables he'd once flipped. He hand-picked his team himself, choosing the roughest, toughest, most-likely-to fail-at-the-rules fishermen. They were not religious nor holy. They did not fit into the Church's box or inspire holiness and piety.
They probably stank.
But Jesus wasn't out to play by the rules. He was carefully and methodically toppling the Jenga towers of expectation, culture and even religion. He was not about to conform.
The Rules of Conformity
Everything Jesus said and did defied some aspect of the rules and systems of his day. Somehow, he missed the memo that said "Don't Make Ripples". Maybe he was too busy shouting down a storm or strolling on the raging sea.
Is it any wonder that Paul, having met a death-defying Jesus, wrote*:
"Don't conform to the pattern of this world... Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking."
In other words—don't follow the rules just because. Then Paul went on:
"Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out."
And the Jenga tower came tumbling down.
If we're honest, most of the time when we bypass the systems of our culture, or step outside the lines of our religion, or non-conform, we do it because we want to boast about how "un-PC" we are. Because we're different. We're smarter. We certainly aren't associated with all the other dumb sheep running off the cliff.
But Jesus had a different motive. One that stemmed not from selfishness, but from selflessness. He broke the rules of stigma and superiority, that his humility might display God's strength. He ignored the rules of pride and power, that grace's invitation of restoration might belong to all.
It was love, not rules, which nailed Jesus Christ to the cross.
And this is the love—the highest "rule" of life—by which we may live by grace, and love with freedom, and sometimes even break the rules.
* quotes are Paul's words, as recorded in the Bible versions of NIV, New King James, and The Message.
Emma is an Italian-South African with a New Zealand passport, living in Papua New Guinea. After years of running a puppet ministry and directing student choirs, she currently serves with Mission Aviation Fellowship. Emma's deep joy is in writing, music, playing with her ginger cats and finding God in unexpected places.
Emma McGeorge's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/emma-mcgeorge.html