Saturday, December 5, 2015

How much religion is enough

No more pathetic cry from the God of all to us the people whom He created and loves can be found than what is written in the book of the prophet Micah,

My people, what have I done to you,
how have I been a burden to you?
Answer Me.
I brought you out of the land of Egypt,
I rescued you from the house of slavery…

It’s true, these words are spoken to the children of Israel, yet what is Israel but the whole of humanity in miniature? What is the land of Egypt and the house of slavery but the bondage to which we are all condemned when we forget who Joseph son of Jacob was, and therefore who we are?

Even when we are aware that He who comes to free us from our passions has broken the bonds of Hades and trampled death underfoot, we wander like the blind, and refusing to enter the land of promise, vex ourselves with religious questions, and try to place the blame on God for our condition.

We ask,

With what gift shall I come into Yahweh’s presence
and bow down before God on high?
Shall I come with holocausts,
with calves one year old?
Will He be pleased with rams by the thousand,
with libations of oil in torrents?
Must I give my first-born for what I have done wrong?

We raise up religion and make God responsible for it, just as the ancient Hebrews did, for which God plagued them not with punishments—that’s what they say He did, but He did not—but with prophets who proclaimed in their hearing, as they still do in ours, that which dissolves religion and demonstrates that God wants none of it.

What is good has been explained to you, O man.
This is what Yahweh asks of you:
Only this, to act justly,
to love tenderly,
and to walk humbly with your God.

What do words like this have to do with religion, even with divine worship? We find ourselves repelled by the simplicity of God’s lovingkindness and His generous mercy, and we persist in telling ourselves and each other what we think He asks of us, even when He appears in Person to qualify the prophets.

If we study the words of Jesus, we must begin by acknowledging that whatever else might be true about God, He is at least what Jesus is, that is, if we believe what Jesus tells us about Himself, and which is supported by His works, which are exactly the same works that God Himself performs.

If you know Me, you know My Father too.
From this moment you know Him and have seen Him.
To have seen me is to have seen the Father.

Whoever believes in Me
believes not in Me
but in the One who sent Me,
and whoever sees Me,
sees the One who sent Me.

The Son can do nothing by Himself.
He can do only what He sees the Father doing:
and whatever the Father does, the Son does too.
For the Father loves the Son
and shows Him everything He does Himself.

If I am not doing My Father’s work,
there is no need to believe Me,
but if I am doing it,
then even if you refuse to believe in Me,
at least believe in the work I do.
Then you will know for sure
that the Father is in Me, and I am in the Father.

Incredibly, it seems, from His words, that Jesus tells us that to believe in what God actually does is more important even than believing in God. That seems an impossible proposition, but if you believe in what Jesus shows us of the Divine Nature through His acts on earth, you must believe the same of God.

Since God has not been obscure or coy with us, but bypassing all our evasions, revealed Himself, His nature, yes, even His will, first through the prophets, then through Jesus, it’s a wonder how Christianity, the community of those who accept Jesus Christ, can have evolved into a religious edifice.

Yes, Christ founded the Church. He established it, that is, He established us in our saving faith, against which the gates of Hades cannot prevail, and His holy apostles in turn handed over to us the same, yet look what we have made of it. Look at what we take pride in, the same as did the Pharisees of old.

Jesus has nothing harsh or controversial to say about religion. He encourages faithfulness, and so to the Jews He recommends that they follow God by faithfully fulfilling their religion’s commands. Yet, He wants them to go beyond it. He wants the same of us. Religion’s best use is to spur us on to greater love.

We know this too from the holy apostles, if we read what they wrote,

The only purpose of this instruction is that there should be love, coming out of a pure heart, and clear conscience, and a sincere faith. There are some people who have gone off the straight course and taken a path that leads to empty speculation.

I wonder how much of what we call our ‘Christian religion’ is the result of what the apostle calls ‘going off the straight course and taking a path that leads to empty speculation.’ I think the answer is to be found in following Christ and the apostles first. Then we’ll see if that makes us religious, or something else.

It’s not impossible to imagine a religionless Christianity. Why not? Because in the holy gospels we encounter a religionless Jesus, and in the Holy apostles we see exactly how much religion is enough,

Pure, unspoiled religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.

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