By Richard Rohr OFM
The law was given to multiply our opportunities for falling. —Romans 5:20
The pattern of necessary falling or the “myth of transgression” made less and less sense to Western Christianity as it came to think that religion’s purpose was to teach and maintain social and imperial order. The Christian mind eventually had little respect for the ubiquitous disorder in the universe, unlike most native religions—for example, as here in New Mexico where the Puebloan clown deliberately breaks the perfect symmetry and seriousness of the sacred dance or the intentional imperfection that must be woven into the authentic Navajo rug (this imperfection is wisely called “the spirit line”).
After almost 50 years as a priest teaching in many countries, I believe that many if not most people are attracted to religion because they want order in their own lives and in the world. This is not bad; it is a first-half-of-life need and task. But it is simply the warm-up for the real Gospel (see Galatians 3:24). Today even science demonstrates rather convincingly that asymmetry is what breaks the dead patterns and moves all elements, species, and ages forward. Life itself proceeds by the radical asymmetry of life and death: no new forms will form unless the old ones die out.
This is how the transgression myth was revealed through the Gospel: Jesus, who is judged—by objective criteria—to be a sinner/offender/failure/transgressor by both high priest and Roman Empire is, in fact, the one who “redeems the world”! Paul repeats this message and calls it the “mystery of the crucified,” which forever discounts both “the Law” (his Jewish religion) and “reason” (Greek philosophy) which at that point were the two great ways to achieve order in their world. Yet these are so deep in our psyche that Christianity went right back to both of them—with a vengeance!
The Gospel and the cross say that the only honest and healing order is the acceptance of disorder. This is God’s surprising and scandalous plan. It is much of the import of Paul’s letters to the Romans and the Galatians.
Both Jesus and Paul believed that necessary and predictable transgression—and the need for mercy that follows—is the pattern of transformation. This is the way God “justifies,” or executes divine justice. This is how God realigns reality inside the only absolute there is: the eternal love of God. Pope Francis is the first pope I am aware of who has had the insight and courage to say that Divine Love is the only absolute, not law, Scripture, church, or moral behavior. Law and reason can never achieve their own goals perfectly, but love and mercy can and do. “Where are your philosophers now? Where are the scribes?” Paul shouts (1 Corinthians 1:20). Love alone, he says, is the “fulfillment” of the law (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14), which of course is what Jesus said (see Matthew 22:40).
Gateway to Silence:
I am hidden in the love and mercy of God.