Friday, October 26, 2012

Penetrating the Crust of Legalism

“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but not notice the log in your own eye?”
— Matthew 7:3 (NRSV)
Every human being will have noticed the club mentality. At its most crude, club mentality is about inclusion and exclusion. And it always depends on protecting the needs of the club executive, but the club is based primarily in partiality. Wherever partiality exists, favouritism is rife, and injustice prevails. Breaking through the crust of legalism is about patiently restoring equity and justice.
The ruling method of club mentality is legalism. It wasn’t just in the Pharisees... it’s in us, too.
Until we recognise our own propensity toward partiality (favouritism, and therefore poor judgment) we will never understand its intricate threads, or be patient enough to penetrate the crust of legalism. As Jesus said, we must first notice the log in our own eyes before we can deal with the speck in others’.
Dealing First, and Always, With Our Own Legalism
The biggest challenge we have with legalism is our own filters of falsity and favouritism. These filters place us, instinctually, as always favouring our own ends; it’s the human predilection to protect its being. If we can’t understand this, or don’t accept it, we can’t go far in spiritual life. One good reason we need God is that, through relationship with the Divine, we may gain insight regarding a more level playing field in life. Without the Spirit of God constantly reminding us of our own legalism we would not repent and, therefore, love.
If we are committed, first and foremost, and always an ever more, to acknowledge our propensity for judgment, and our inherently skewed view on life, what is added is the additional patience we need in order to break through this crust—this veneer—of legalism.
Noticing, and Bearing With, Legalism, In Order to Gently Challenge It
Knowing the right ways to challenge legalism is wisdom. We have perhaps all tried to challenge legalistic structures in our world, only to fail time and again. What is required is patience and poised gentleness as we go.
First, we must identify where these self-reinforcing-structures exist in club mentality.
It helps if we identify what ‘clubs’ we align with, for we all have the propensity to herd into the default positions and agencies reflected by our personalities and values. If we are being honest we will see the veins of legalism for what they are. We are all implicated.
Then, and only then, are we able to respond as God would have us respond; as we see ourselves implicated within this legalism.
Second, once God has established this awareness in us, we can set about patiently digging through the crust. This is not about ructions of challenge, but more so through prayer and empathy for the system itself we are able to discern the differences we can make. These might be small or they might be few.
Penetrating the crust of legalism is first about noticing our own penchant for partiality and judgment. Only when we are honest with God can our Lord speak into our lives about the broader legalism we battle with every day.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

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