Human nature surprises me both in its beauty and its ugliness. A young man took his life last week, and though I did not know him very well, I know many of his friends. Evenings were spent on msn and facebook just offering care and hope, and it was beautiful to see this young mans friends pay tribute to him and care for each other. This love is a gift from God, for God is love. However, there was ugliness as well. Posts made in a group set up to honour this young mans life were left that celebrated his death- they were cruel, theologically untrue, and designed purely to hurt others.
I think what got to me more than anything was that these cruel comments were made in the name of God, and I actually carried out a facebook conversation with one of the boys who was making these comments. He had a very good knowledge of the Bible in terms of basic facts, and a very good knowledge of how to talk in "Holy Language." However, the love of God was absent.
This gets me thinking even as I write this- do some people really believe that their "holy show" will get them into heaven? As I reflect on scripture, specifically the Gospels, there's something amazing that stands out to me regarding religious practice. The only people Jesus really tore into were the religious people. Jesus's teaching was always very pointed; "Get behind me Satan..." directed at Peter is a great example. But if you read closely you'll see something very important. Jesus dealt with the sinners, those who had no or little knowledge of what salvation was, in a very tender and patient way. He forgave a woman caught in adultery. He offered hope to the woman at the well who had basically slept around her whole life. He dined with sinners and tax collectors, and even called them to follow Him. But to the religious, it was a different story. He called them out publically and personally and taught that their religious tradition meant nothing without a true change of the heart. Take this teaching for example from Matthew 23:8-12:
"8But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ.[b] 11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."
Hmmm... Father? Where have I heard that before in a "religous" setting? Somehow, despite Jesus' teaching, we've allowed tradition and religious practice to return, and to become a substitute for relying on Grace. Yes this example speakes clearly to Catholics, but we all as Christians do it in different ways. It's everything from fighting about how to dress in church, to how a sermon should be presented, to even something as silly as what kind of music is pleasing to God. It is easy to become "religious" but to forget the author of our religion in the process.
I'll finish with the words of the Lord's brother James. "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
Amen. May it be so.