In today’s Gospel Story (Mark 8:27-35) Jesus’ disciples have a different experience of him than do the folks who don’t know him as they do. Their understanding of who Jesus is differs from what others have learned from the established religion of the time. He seems to be telling us that if we are serious about following him we also have to learn from him, and not just from others. We have to make our own journey, and nobody can do it for us. We need not blindly accept what others, whether ordinary folks or an institution, tell us. Often the Jesus we learn from spending time with him is not the Jesus presented to us by others, well-meaning though they may be. In fact, there may be some pretty big differences. More on this at www.phrogge.wordpress.com
Among what we seem to learn on our journey is the sense that Jesus focused on love, not fear. He offered transformation, not punishment. He lived his Father’s love and invited his friends to spend time with him so he could show them how to live this love in their own lives. He did not offer them a list of rules they had to follow, sins they had to avoid, or dogmas they had to believe or he would not have anything to do with them. He did not threaten them with punishment, or instill fear into them – just the opposite. He did everything with love. He showed folks how he lived, and left the choice up to them.
Many of the organizations that followed him seemed to feel they could do a better job than he did, so they came up with their own list of rules, sins, and dogmas. Do everything they say, and the organization will get you to heaven, or something along these lines. External conformity is important, and deviation is punishable. The religious police are alive and well, with friends in high places. There is precious little about transformation. Their primary tools seem to be a preoccupation with sin and proper terminology, along with a healthy dose of fear of being punished or thrown out. The more they do this, the less people seem to be paying attention. Belonging to the institution and following all its rules seems to be more important than being transformed by Jesus. It really isn’t the folks’ fault. It is the way they have been trained by some institutions. Thankfully not all institutions treat their folks this way.
I wonder how many folks in the pews “go to church” simply because they always have. Good folks though they are, do they have any idea of what it is to really know Jesus on an intensely personal level? How many are so focused on fear that they have no idea of the reality of our Father’s love? I really don’t know. From confessions there seems to be a great fear of an avenging and judgmental God getting ready to send folks to eternal pain for the slightest thing, usually something sexual. If they have a sense at all of being transformed in Jesus it has to do with stopping them from committing terrible sins of sex. I have not been able to find any of this in the Gospel, but I sure have found it in pastoral ministry. So many good folks cannot be persuaded that this is not what Jesus intends. They cannot understand that they can do nothing to make Jesus love them or stop loving them because he already loves them powerfully. How has this happened? Certainly it is not in the Gospel.
The fear and threats used by some institutions to keep folks in line is sheer violence. Why would anyone want to belong to an organization that engenders so much fear? In many cases the best way to describe how some systems and institutions treat their folks is “abuse”. A case in point would be the treatment by some institutions of their folks who have divorced and remarried. They are not allowed to share fully in worship. It is hard to see Jesus treating anybody in this way. It seems some institutions believe they can control access to Jesus who, by the way, agrees with everything they do, so they say. Anyone in a violent relationship needs to get out of it before it is too late. This seems to be what a lot of folks have done. Who can blame them? Many have just walked away and are living good lives of service and caring among the people in their lives, and are doing a wonderful job without any threats from an institution. They probably have no idea of correct terminology and the right questions and answers. They are good folks living good lives because they choose to and they love people. They might know something.
This morning while driving to Mass I was listening to the news about the disturbances in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen. The people in the demonstrations were shouting shouting from the Koran “There is one God, Allah”. Then in the reading from I Cor at Mass, Paul says, “There is no God but one”. Two major traditions each of whose sacred book proclaims the same truth, each of which has appropriated their understanding of God for their own purposes. Who is right? Each has developed a system and institution to protect their own interpretation from all others, to proclaim theirs alone to be true and all others false. Many use any number of questionable tactics to keep their members in line. Is this what God, by whatever name, has in mind. Is this the same God who looked at all creation and saw it to be good? The same God who who through any number of messengers proclaims God’s love for all creation?
Many systems and institutions claiming uniquely to be acting in God’s name come up with standards to set their members apart from all others and to establish, at least in their own minds, the unique authenticity of their claims. Many enforce these standards on their members with is best described as violence. We don’t have to look too far to find examples on all sides.
Just sayin . . .