Law exists to serve people, not to enslave them

Although it looks like current preaching revolves around obedience as an absolute and superlative value, the Bible seems to insist on narrating the opposite path. Almost the majority of biblical stories are marked by the rebellious tinge of disobedience to oppress systems by the protagonists and the peoples they represented in the midst of societies that obeyed their traditions and that sought to block the way to those silent voices that tried to tell their tales.

There are many examples like the one I just pointed out. From a God who proclaimed God is only one in the midst of polytheistic cultures, to God’s attitude against human sacrifices, when this practice was the common denominator among the peoples that surrounded the recipients of the story of Abraham and Isaac.

The characters of the Scriptures did not escape from it. Prostitutes who lie to their government so that an enemy can conquer the land flowing with milk and honey, the young men who refuse to taste the dinner from the king’s table, the carpenter who refuses to send his fiancée to stoning for being pregnant before her time, the preacher who refuses to be prosecuted claiming his Roman nationality, the woman who enters the king’s chambers, still at risk of losing her own life; the prophet who claims to be the Son of God and to know him from before the beginning of time; are some of the most emblematic examples of this disorder.

Then, history becomes cyclical. The monks who question the infallibility of their religious leader and pretend to reform the Church, end up starting a new movement; the emancipated peoples against their conquerors in distant lands, raise their cries of independence against sovereign crowns; the African-descended slaves who, after crying through their music the misfortune they experience, refuse to give up their bus seats to their perpetrators; or those themselves who, despite being prohibited from doing so, dare to enter their masters’ cafeteria to grab some coffee.

That is why Jesus’ attitude and speech should reverberate in our ears, trained to obey, so that, in this way, those words set us free as promised. The Colombian independence hero, Francisco de Paula Santander managed to immortalize one of his famous phrases through rebellion against an empire that would become a paradox: freedom from the law. “Colombians, weapons have given you independence, laws will give you freedom.”

And I say that it is a paradox because it would be contradictory that it is precisely the laws that bring such freedom. However, Santander must have read Jesus when he healed on the Sabbath and then taught us that the law does not have to rule over people, but that it exists for people’s service, their well-being. If this does not happen, but quite the opposite, then there is no legitimacy in that law, and it will have to be repealed through the action of good.

The life of the Master of Galilee is full of episodes in which putting the law in its place, neither higher nor lower, was one of the key messages of his sayings. Unfortunately, today is the opposite. (Religious) laws are taking over the people who learned only to live according to them.

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.” Romans 13:1-3

From this text, the premise of unrestricted obedience has been built, regardless of the quality of law or authority, thus ignoring verse two, which is conditional. However, the Puerto Rican theologian Julio Álvarez points out in this regard that when this passage from Paul speaks of the authorities imposed by God, he is not referring to individuals who exercise said authority, but to their institutionality, the office, the authority itself. He exemplifies it this way: The position of President is given by God. Within the President’s duties is to take care of the order and justice of the nation. That does not mean that any President necessarily fully complies with that assignment, even if that person is occupying such a position.

Jesus, as the maximum example of faith, takes a subversive attitude towards the person who exercises an authority that does not fulfill its purpose, who, from the superiority that it provides, abuses, and destroys those who are supposed to care, protect, teach, and build. There he builds resistance and active non-violence; that is why he defeats evil with good.

Until we understand that the law is for people, instead of people being enslaved by laws, we will not be able to understand Jesus’ words when he says that the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve. The authority, if it follows the example of Jesus, must learn and act accordingly; meanwhile, manipulation and spiritual abuse will continue to be the daily menu in contemporary faith communities. God wants to save us from law and authority.


Ps. David Gaitan

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