Breaking the Law

Have you ever tried to follow all the rules and still feel you’ve fallen short?

Matthew 5:3-12, NIV

             I must admit to you that I am a criminal. It is said that ignorance of the law is no excuse yet I truly had no idea that praying in certain circumstances is illegal. Last Friday, a front of violent storms swept through Greater Cincinnati. I asked God to intervene believing that many persons could potentially be harmed by the strong winds and frequent lighting that wreaked havoc on city drainage systems and power lines. I had no idea that Federal Laws 15 U.S.C. §§330a & 330d deem it a federal crime to make an attempt to change the weather without telling the Secretary of Commerce.

            I’m told that every day, each of us violates the 5000 or so federal laws or 300,000 regulations that can be enforced criminally. According to Matt Vespa, “In 2003, there were only 4,000 offences that carried criminal penalties. By 2013, that number had grown by 21 percent to 4,850. The code has become so big, that the Congressional Research Service and the American Bar Association simply do not have enough staff to adequately categorize every law we have on the books.”

            Some laws are a bit outlandish. For example, a law exists that makes it a crime to sell any wine with the name “zombie”. It is also a crime to sell anti-flatulent drugs without noting flatulence is “referred to as gas”. Likewise, you can be arrested for allowing your pet to make a noise that scares the wildlife in a national park. (I truly cannot imagine my Peek-a-Poo’s pitiful yelp running off a 1700 pound Grizzly Bear.)

            When Jesus preached the first portion of his infamous Sermon on the Mount, he introduced eight different virtues or Beatitudes. Each virtue listed in Matthew 5:3-12 is designed to help individual Christians take on the character and qualities of Jesus. At the time Jesus spoke, there were over 700 different Jewish laws. Like the U.S. laws of today, the Law that governed Israel had become so cumbersome only a very few could ever hope to stay in compliance.

            Jesus simplified the process of living into God’s will by presenting these eight virtues that govern the human heart. 700 years before the birth of Jesus, Jeremiah quoted God as saying, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33, NIV). Rather than having a group of laws externally shape human behavior, God sent Jesus to place a more modest number of virtues internally within the human heart for the purpose of shaping human behavior. Each of the eight virtues Jesus offers are gifts of grace that can accessed through a simple request. Humility, purity of heart, and mercy are blessings that can be ours just by asking. So, even if you step outside of human law, like me, you can rest assured that you are living within the realm of God’s blessing and favor.


            Dear Lord, I never feel as what I do and say is ever good enough. Even when I think I have stayed within the bounds of your Law, I’m afraid that there is always some measure that I have either bent or broken. Rather than following a group of rules, please place within me a greater desire to live a virtuous life. Through Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.