Do you remember those color-by-number sheets you used to do as a child? I loved those things. Although as I’ve gotten older I’ve discovered and embraced the artistic side of my being, early on in life anything artsy was a formidable task. And being a rule follower by nature, these sheets fell within my wheelhouse.
We would get to do these every now and then in school or in Bible class. I would excitedly reach for my crayons knowing that I could create an entire masterpiece by following some simple instructions and staying within the lines.
It was simple. Clean. Easy.
Of course, a little later my eyes were opened to the fact that the greatest works of art did not follow such a simple pattern. Real artists use the knowledge and experience they have required to move and create something that a rudimentary template never could.
In fact, the best works of art often work outside the normal conventions and challenge the way we view art and even the world itself:
I see a similar dynamic at work in the ministry of Jesus.
The Pharisees and teachers of the Law were often frustrated with Jesus because he refused to play within their guidelines. In fact, he outright broke their rules. Whether they were concerned about his disciples following proper ceremonial washing procedures (Matthew 15) or Jesus daring to heal on the Sabbath (Luke 13), they continuously butted heads because Jesus strayed outside the lines.
It’s not as if Jesus was unaware, either. He knew the Law better than anyone. It’s not that he didn’t see the lines; it was that he saw something greater beyond them. He hinted at this in Matthew 5:17-18:
“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.
Where the Pharisees saw rules, Jesus saw people. Where they saw lines, he saw opportunity. Jesus simply didn’t have a need for the Pharisees’ color-by-number religion. He was too busy creating a much better work of art.
Yesterday Trevor mentioned our tendency as religious folk to draw boundaries, create doctrine and police our rules. We are really good at looking into scripture and pulling out a set of protocols and instructions on how to live. And to be certain, these can be incredibly helpful.
The early part of scripture especially was written in a world that was devoid of boundaries. It was chaotic and violent and merciless. Which is why the book of Leviticus was so revolutionary. God was helping a primitive people find ways to navigate the world in better ways.
Rules help us fight the chaos, but rules have never been the point.
Relationship is the point.
We have a tendency to cling too tightly to our boundaries. Because rules are much easier than relationship. Rules are simple. Relationships are complicated. Rules are clean. Relationships are messy. Rules give us certainty. Relationships can be ambiguous.
This is what Jesus was pointing to in his battles with the Pharisees. Rules have their place. They help us make sense of a messy world.
But if our lives never move beyond simply abiding by a set of guidelines, then we miss the great opportunity before us. The chance to color outside the lines a little bit. To forgive and bless.
We miss the chance to use a palette filled with the colors of love and grace and mercy and peace and joy to create a much more beautiful masterpiece. We exchange an open canvas for a color-by-number page.
So today may you see the blessing in the guidelines. May you thank God for the wisdom he has shared to help us navigate the world in better ways. But may you also love and forgive and bless others even when it’s outside the boundaries.
May we all learn to color outside the lines.