Christianity is sometimes accused of having too many rules. Churches are often accused of the same thing. And the Holy Bible is the depository and dispensary for all of those rules.
A basic list of rules is found in the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments to be exact. These rules are self-explanatory and not radical. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. No one can argue with these.
In his teaching, Jesus made great use of stories, examples, metaphors and analogies, all of which can sound like rules. But some of them are not to be taken literally. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better to lose one member than the whole body.
Some are simply practical teachings: If your brother or sister has wronged you, first be reconciled to your brother or sister before offering your gifts at the altar. Keeping a clean heart before approaching the altar of God is a good rule to follow.
This Sunday’s anthem at the Offertory, the short anthem “If ye love me” by 18th Century English composer Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585), is most often associated with the Ascension or with Pentecost. However, as its text (John 14:15-17) speaks to commandments, its words also apply with this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 5:21-37).
Jesus’ words to his disciples in the Gospel of John are the very comforting:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (John 14:15-17)
In other words, if we love Jesus and keep his (or the) commandments, he will ask God the Father to send an Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to be with us forever. With that promise and a little effort on our own, how difficult can following the rules be?
Tallis’ anthem says it this way:
If ye love me keep my commandments,
and I will pray the Father,
and he shall give you another comforter,
that he may bide with you forever,
even the spirit of truth.
- Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585)