As I get older, I find myself more and more at loggerheads with the organisational bureaucracy of the institutions that I work for. Those of you who know me well are aware of what I’m referring to. This has not necessarily been a wise thing and has led to numerous meetings and warnings from H.R. In fact, on one occasion, the comment was made that given my age and experience, my responses and questioning of certain protocols, procedures, rules, policies, and hierarchies of authority do not demonstrate much wisdom, insight, thought or understanding.
In reflecting on today’s gospel, I believe the Pharisees demonstrated this same organisational bureaucracy that many of us are faced with today. Their strict adherence and interpretation of the law (religious – the Torah) set them on an unavoidable collision course with Jesus.
While the Pharisee’s aim was to maintain the status quo, this being the preservation of religious law and practice, it also had many floors, characterised by rigidity and inability to change, as well as restricting believers. This was the organisational religious bureaucracy that Jesus continually challenged.
In today’s gospel, we see Him confronted and accused of breaking the Sabbath. How does Jesus respond to his accusers? He clearly states that “plucking corn on the Sabbath does not violate or profane the religious law. In doing so, he reinterprets the law (Torah) and promotes the true spirit of it as opposed to the strict observance and practice that the Pharisees seek to uphold. Jesus looks beyond the literal interpretation of the law, that of sacrifice and outward observance and practice, to its underlying spirit pointing to God’s love, mercy, freedom, and faithfulness.
Ingeniously, Jesus challenges the Pharisees to recall and properly understand a given text of scripture and presents his own teaching as the fulfilment of the Law. Jesus presents an internalised, spiritual understanding of the Sabbath law; this simply being that human needs supersede religious observance promoted by the Pharisees.
Jesus’ aim was to point out that their interpretation of keeping “God’s law” through strict religious observance limited individuals from experiencing the underlying spirit of God’s love and faithfulness.
Finally, there are two points that I personally take from today’s gospel. Firstly, it is from the leadership that Jesus demonstrates in challenging organisational bureaucracy whether it be religious or secular. He does so in a non-confrontational manner, calmly without a sense of competitiveness so as not to show the Pharisees up but to get them to reflect on their practice for the collective good of those who matter. In an educational forum, this would be termed as becoming reflective practitioners.
Secondly, there is an important reminder that organisational bureaucracy is seriously floored, often guilty of restricting and limiting people from what is most beneficial and important to any organisation. Strategies and practices are a means to an end and should be people-centred, but one must never forget that, ultimately, people are the strategy of any organisation.
Michael Schiano has been a member of St. Brigid’s parish since 1990. As a parish member, he has served on the Parish Pastoral Council, Liturgy Committee, and Bereavement Team and is a member of the Passionist Companions. He has been an educator in the Archdiocese and has held positions in middle management and executive leadership positions. He currently works in Aged Care in the roles of Pastoral Care Co-Ordinator at Brigidine House, Randwick; St. Anne’s Hunters Hill; and Chaplaincy, Pastoral Care Officer at Calvary Ryde.