German World War I pilot Rittmeister Baron Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen
German World War I pilot Rittmeister Baron Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen "Red Baron" in his Fokker Dr. 1 aeroplane. plane /Aeroplanes

SPIRITUAL MATTERS: Breaking the rules is not okay

It was a fine April day. In normal circumstances, great flying weather. But the year was 1918 and flying purely for the joy of it was the last thing on a pilot’s mind.

This was when Richthofen – widely known as The Red Baron – led his flight of tri-planes in search of British aircraft. And it wasn’t long before the enemy were sighted and engaged.

Face-to-face with a flight of Sopwith Camel biplanes led by Canadian Royal Air Force pilot Capt. Arthur Brown, the sky was soon filled with these newfangled climbing, spinning and gyrating weapons of war. At the controls of one of the British planes was a rookie – fresh from initial training. As this was his first offensive patrol, Wilfred May had been ordered to stay out of any action. But he couldn’t resist joining in. Unfortunately, his guns jammed. Defenceless, May turned his plane away from the battle.

Richthofen spotted the lone plane and, anticipating an easy kill, gave chase. Capt. Brown saw what was happening and knew May was no match for the veteran German ace. He peeled away to protect the rookie airman.

With Brown closing in, Richthofen, usually a meticulous and disciplined fighter pilot, made a fundamental mistake. He broke one of his own rules by following May too far into enemy territory. Brown caught up with Richthofen behind Allied lines and let rip with his guns. At that point the fighter planes were flying over the machinegun nests of the Australian Field Artillery.

Where the shot came from remains a subject of debate. It could have been from the ground or the air. But the bottom line is that Richthofen was struck by a bullet that passed through his body and mortally wounded the German ace.

Richthofen was a formidable foe. He was a great pilot and supremely confident. But in the end, he broke one of his own rules by flying too far and too low over enemy territory. Perhaps he was overconfident; perhaps he thought he could stretch the rules a little; maybe complacency over what he thought was going to be an ‘easy kill’ set in. Whatever the case, he compromised his own standards, and it led to his demise. The Red Baron paid the ultimate price for his mistake.

Clearly, our journey through life has its pitfalls and to stay on track and stay safe, there are prescribed rules and standards of behaviour that should never be compromised.

Have you ever sat and watched a program like “Highway patrol” on TV? Has it left you shaking your head at the stupidity of those caught by the long arm of the Law? Most of those featured have come to the attention of the police because they’re breaking a road rule. But usually that’s just the thin end of the wedge. It’s then discovered that they’ve bent more than one rule. They’re often driving unlicensed, while disqualified, drunk, using an unregistered and/or unroadworthy car – and so on. Instead of keeping a low profile to avoid being noticed, they tempt fate and draw attention to themselves.

The safest option in life – both for oneself and as a responsible member of society – is to do the right thing. This is especially true of our spiritual lives. To live responsibly before God and others is to focus on obedience to those rules designed to make lifework smoothly, exactly as God planned. We need to avoid violating the tried and trusted rules for responsible living. And the most important one – according to Jesus – is to focus our love on God and others.

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