When we were growing up, our parents and teachers spent much of their time teaching us the proper way we were to behave. They taught us how to act in Church, the proper way to sit in a restaurant, and the polite way to remain still and quiet in a library. As we grew older and we forgot our manners (as we often did) our parents would remind us about proper behavior. As we grew even older and still forgot how to properly behave, if we were lucky they would ask, “Didn’t I teach you how to behave? Show me how you are supposed to act in Church.” Since we did remember everything they taught us, even though we didn’t always act like it, we were always able to repeat the rules to them. “We are supposed to sit quietly and pay attention” Eventually we became adults and our parents were no longer constantly reminding us about our behavior because we already knew what to do.
There was a certain ruler, who just like us knew the right way to behave. In fact he had always followed the rules. One day he asked Jesus how to have eternal life. When Jesus reminded him about keeping the commandments he said, “All these I have observed since my youth.” (Luke 18.21) He must have thought he was “good to go” to heaven, since he had always followed the rules. But there was something missing that Jesus pointed out to him. "You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." (Luke 18.22) There was only one little problem.....he was very very rich. The ruler walked away from Jesus that day very sad.
You see it isn’t enough to just follow the rules. Rules don’t get us into heaven. There are many stories in the Holy Scriptures about people who follow the rules but still end up losing. Of course it isn’t because they followed the rules that they lost. They lost because they thought following the rules was the key to heaven. They lost because they didn’t understand the purpose behind the rules in the first place. It is the purpose that counts, not just the rules.
When the ruler thought following the rules would be enough to get him into heaven he didn’t realize the rules had a deeper purpose. The rules were supposed to help him love the way God wanted him to love. When Jesus said, “You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,' 'Honor your father and your mother,’” He offered a few of the Commandments to remind the ruler that when we want to love like God loves, we would not commit adultery, or murder or steal or lie. Jesus was telling the ruler that the Commandments were supposed to help him learn to love.
Unfortunately for the ruler he was more concerned about whether the rules were being followed and never considered that he was expected to love. How do we know? When Jesus said, “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor,” He knew that only someone who loved the way God loves would be willing to sell everything. Unfortunately for the ruler, he decided to walk away.
We are blessed because, just like our parents were willing to remind us about the rules, the Church is willing to remind us about the rules. We don’t have to walk away from God. We can still choose to learn from our mistakes. We can still choose to learn to love the way God wants us to love. After all, it isn’t about just following the rules. It’s about learning to love, but then again....we already know what to do.