Of late the common Lectionary has been following the stories of Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees found in Luke’s Gospel. The one today is from Luke 11: 47-54 where Jesus is really lambasting them. When we read these accounts, we get a picture of a not so nice Jesus, a picture of one who did not fear confronting people. This confrontational Jesus only comes out when he is confronted with self righteous religious types. The Pharisees were a group of lay people, very devoted to the letter of the religious law. They were the “church police,” or “liturgical police” of their day. It is only to such as these that we see Jesus getting very upset. And it is these very upstanding religious folk who sought to kill him.
What can this say to us?
Sometimes the “church police” are in our heads. Do you often find yourself berating your own self for this or that transgression? Some of us live with a perfectionism that is so deep-rooted that it paralyzes us and weighs us down. Ironically then we look for relief in the very things which make us feel guilty in the first place. Guilt has its place. It can be very motivating and sometimes we need this motivation in order to change for the better. However, when guilt becomes the norm it becomes paralyzing.
Jesus confronted the church police of his day. Sometimes we have to confront the church police in our own mind – to step outside the negative tug of this incessant judge and be born into a way of thinking and living that lifts us up.
Remember a time in your life when your passions were running amuck? Remember when you used to stay out too late, drink too much and could barely remember the name of the person or persons you had sex with the night before? Remember a time when you just ran after pleasure, any way you could get it? Perhaps you are one who has been blessed not to have gone through such a time. Or perhaps, like a lot of us, we are still tempted and, at times, run after pleasure only to find ourselves empty once again.
Passion is a good thing! But unbridled passion leads to emptiness. Part of being free is having the ability to make good choices which lead us to good places in life. Paul puts it this way. His word “flesh” I would translate as unbridled passion. “It is obvious what proceeds from the flesh: lewd conduct, impurity, idolatry, rage, envy, drunkenness, orgies, bickering . . .” (See Galatians 5: 18-25)
And believe me, I’m no prude! Been there. Done that. And still do at times! But think back to a time when your incessant search for happiness was focused purely in people, places or things began to drive you, instead of you driving it. Were you REALLY happy? I don’t find myself happy when my passion is running every which way. However, when I am focused and doing what I need to stay that way, I am much more peaceful, happy and serene. Life might not be very “exciting” but it’s good, really good!
“The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness . . .” (See Galatians 5: 18-25)
Why is it that religion inevitably has lead to the creation of various hoops through which one must jump in order to be assured salvation? For the Jews, one of the hoops was circumcision. For Christians, it’s explicit belief in the name of Jesus – and no one else! I don’t know that the God of Abraham and Sarah would have meant to create such hoops. I don’t know that Jesus would have condemned any who did not explicitly put their faith in him! For Jesus, it wasn’t so much a matter of religious adherence as it was loving action. In this, one expressed and worked out their “salvation.”
“In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor the lack of it counts for anything; only faith, which expresses itself through love.” (See Galatians 5: 1-6)
I still meet people who fear for their salvation due to strict and scrupulous upbringing. They, like I, were formed from early childhood with an image of God as a severe judge and the necessity of holding strictly to religious practice. Religious practice is meant to facilitate one’s life in God and in loving action toward others. Unfortunately what it turned into was a god itself. Instead of guiding one’s life in good ways, strict adherence to the practice became the focus. Instead of focusing on loving action toward others and justice in the world, one’s favor in the eyes of God was relegated to the fulfillment of various religious practices! The pain of those who live under the weight of this scrupulosity is palatable. Did God ever intend this? I don’t think so.
“You Pharisees! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but within you are filled with grasping, clinging greed!” (See Luke11: 37-41)
What’s really more important, cutting off your foreskin, or being a giving, loving person? It’s almost laughable when we see it this way; but what religious practices are you still a slave to? “Christ freed us for liberty. So stand firm, and do not take on yourselves the yoke of slavery a second time!” (See Galatians 5: 1-6)
Luke 11: 29-32
“Just as Jonah was a sign for the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be a sign for the present age.”
Jonah walked through the streets of Nineveh (reluctantly I might add!), calling the people to repentance, calling them to change their thinking and their ways of living. They were off the path, and both Jonah and Jesus called people back to the path that gives life.
Do we love others enough to call them back to a path that gives life, if we see them doing things which are harmful?
Some of us don’t because we fear rejection. But is our love really genuine then, or does it ring hollow? Some of us don’t want to call a person to life, because we fear that they will then call US to life. Perhaps there are unhealthy areas in our own lives that lurk in the shadows that we don’t want to face. And if we call another to life, we must be willing to be called to life. Sometimes families and friends, communities or even nations live a placid peace, allowing each other to continue to live in unhealthy ways for fear that my own unhealthy, but comfortable ways might be called into question.
When we call another to life, or even when we confront our own shadows within, it is always to be done in love and not spite. Love is what truly calls us to life. When I am encouraged to live in ways that are healthy, when I have a vision of living in a new and exciting way placed before my eyes, I am apt to change.
Do I have the courage to call another, or myself to life? And then, do I have the ability to let go and allow them to take their path, even if they refuse to change? How might I be being called to change, to live in new and exciting ways?
This morning I began looking through Marianne Williamson’s book A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles, which a friend of mine gave me the other day. In the introduction I think she has one of the best definitions of spirituality that I have seen:
“The spiritual journey is the relinquishment – or unlearning – of fear and the acceptance of love back in our hearts.” (p.xxii)
I think she gets to the heart of what it is to live a spiritual path. What immediately came to my mind when I read this sentence was a time in my life when I was really struggling. I felt trapped and saw no way out. All I saw was the downward spiral that I was in. One day I knelt and prayed that I would somehow be freed, and even as I prayed I had little faith that this darkness would pass. Soon after, however, I began to have more and more thoughts of what life would be like outside of this spiral. This is what I began concentrating on and soon after, I found myself moving beyond fear to freedom.
It was only when my thoughts of fear were replaced with exciting thoughts of a new life, that I began to move to a new place of freedom. Fear was replaced with possibility. This is such a good reminder to me when I find myself struggling with whatever issue. If I stay with thoughts of fear, I will remain trapped. But if I place before my eyes a vision of what can be, a Power greater than myself will begin to move me in that direction.
Perhaps today, instead of worrying, instead of fretting over something in our lives, we might replace those thoughts with a vision of freedom, keep our focus there and see what happens.