I wondered if you’ve tried an ‘Escape Room’. They’re all the rage at the moment – you can either do them in person or online, and the idea is that you are ‘trapped’ in a room, but by solving clues and puzzles, you find a way out. We bought one for our daughter’s birthday a couple of years ago, and she and her friends had a great time across a whole evening trying to solve it. They were still going at midnight (online, not stuck somewhere remote in the dark!) and eventually found their way out.
Escape Rooms are fun for the puzzle solver – but we can apply the same sort of logic in other parts of our life; for example, when it comes to awkward laws and rules. We know what we should do, but can be very inventive in finding ways to wriggle out of it.
The reason I do my own tax return each year rather than pay for someone to file it for me is because just before we left theological college we were given a presentation by a firm of tax accountants – who shall remain nameless – proffering their services, and also giving us some handy tips. This included the advice that if we bumped into a parishioner we knew in the supermarket car park, we should stop and have a chat with them, because we could then call it a ‘pastoral visit’ and claim the travel for our family shopping trip on church expenses. I kid you not – this was really said to a bunch of hyper-keen ordinands who thought they were at college to dedicate their lives to God! Some of us practically choked on our coffee… I don’t think the firm made many new clients that day.
It sounds laughable to write the last paragraph, but such things are often uncomfortably closer to the bone than we think. I suspect we all have our blind spots. The particular issue Jesus challenged in today’s passage related to the use of money, too: in this case, a rule called ‘corban’ which some Pharisees were using to avoid offering financial support to their parents. In effect they found a loophole to avoid the more challenging consequences of obeying the Fifth Commandment. Even worse, they cloaked it with a spiritual veneer: it’s ‘money for God’. To which Jesus said: ‘I think God would like you to make sure your parents had a roof over their head.’
The great news of the gospel is that we worship a God of amazing grace and (thankfully) immense patience. We all do this kind of thing from time to time – but there is always hope! This God is slowly changing us from the inside out. If the Lord prods you today about something, offer it back to him, pray for grace to change: and also give thanks that God is still cheering you on.