Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Spiritual Hiccups - Religious Certainty

On more than one occasion I have heard people insist that had they been alive in Jesus' day, they would not have joined the crowd in yelling, "Crucify him." They're sure they would have recognized and followed Jesus. I'd like to think the same about myself, but I'm not all that certain.

I thought of this when I read today's verses from Matthew. Jesus speaks of the Pharisees honoring the graves of the prophets and quotes them as saying, "If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets."

The Pharisees were the uber-religious of their day. They were unimpressed by the ritual and pomp of priestly, Temple Judaism, and insisted that being God's people meant taking the commandments seriously and living lives of deep faith and conviction. They were religious reformers, and you could draw some real parallels between their attempts to reform Judaism and the early Protestants' desire to reform Roman Catholic Christianity.

Yet Jesus insists that their certainty about not joining their ancestors in killing the prophets is a hollow boast, which makes me wonder about our own religious certainties.

What was it about dedicated, often sincere, serious people of faith that put them at odds with Jesus? Why is it that Jesus' opponents were mostly religious authorities? What is it about religious life that seems to have the capacity to obscure rather than reveal God's presence? Jesus says over and over that the tax collectors and prostitutes enter into the Kingdom ahead of the religious folks.

One of the problems with all religious institutions is the tendency to substitute beliefs, practices, and doctrines for God. It is all too easy for our ultimate loyalty to be given to how we do things, how we like things, a particular conception of God, or simply to our particular congregation. But anytime we give ultimate loyalty to something other than God, that something becomes our idol. And when we worship an idol, even it if it is the best of congregations, we may see anyone who threatens our idol as evil, even Jesus.

To live lives of faith that matter, we have to make decisions about what we should and shouldn't do, about what God wants and doesn't want. We must discern what God calls us to do and precede to do just that. But we also must always remember that our decisions and our discernments are not God. And we must always be open for God to break through our certainties and show us something new and wonderful.

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