Sunday Reflection by Karen Branch-Brioso

I love baptisms. You never know what a baby will do when confronted with the congregation before them or when that trinity of water drips down their head.

Some amaze me by their absolute calm during the baptism. Some make me laugh as they nearly squirm out of their parents’ arms or erupt into squalls at the font. It reminds me of my son’s baptism at St. John’s Episcopal in Tampa. I can’t remember much about the Baptismal Covenant I uttered that day. I do remember Daniel trying to escape our arms to reach for an electrical outlet near the font. I vividly recall him yanking an ear bud from the elderly priest’s ear. The one the priest was using to listen to – and then say aloud – the recorded words of the liturgy, since his failing eyesight prevented him from reading them.

There really are no rules for babies. No scripts at all.

But, Father Tim’s sermon before the baptism made me realize something about myself.  As much as I rejoice in each infant’s unique reaction to baptism, I’m not always so accepting of the way adults behave. I expect them to follow the letter of the law. Stick to the script. Follow the rules of etiquette. Whether they’re driving a car, serving customers in a retail store, or working alongside me at the office.

Uh-oh. I’m a Rules Girl, I thought, after Father Tim said in today’s sermon, “Do we value persons more than rules and laws?”

He was referencing Jesus’ approach to authority. When Jesus taught in the synagogue in Capernaum, Mark’s Gospel tells us that the people there were “astounded” at how he spoke with such authority. Yet, his authority wasn’t about rules. It was about the people he encountered as life happened around him – even when a heckler interrupted his teaching with a shout: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

The Rules Girl in me would have figured out a way to usher that guy out of there – pronto.

Jesus saw beyond the unruly behavior and saw what the man really needed: an exorcism. And while it wasn’t mentioned in these verses, I kept waiting for someone in the crowd to jump in and rebuke Jesus for casting out demons on the Sabbath. Those someones were the original Rules Guys.

Jesus acted out that people-over-rules authority in so many ways. But when one of the Rules Guys – a Pharisee lawyer, of all people – asked him directly which law was the greatest, Jesus also preached what he practiced.

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment,” he answered. “And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’”

  • What prompts you to reach for the rule book in your head in your daily encounters with others?
  • How can you see beyond the unruly behavior that you encounter and apply Jesus’ people-over-rules approach?