Sunday, November 2, 2014

Checklisting Our Way Out of Heaven

Matthew 23.1-3:  Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,  “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat;  therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.   [NRSV]

Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. “The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer. [The Message]

Does it carry him or does he carry it?
                                                                                                              – William Barclay

Does your religion, your faith, carry, sustain, uphold, you?

Or does your religion, your faith, require you to carry it?

William Barclay opines that a religion that requires you to carry it isn’t much of a religion.

I tend to agree.

What say you?

Is religion, a life of faith lived in community, a source of comfort?  Do your fellow followers lift you up?  Do they carry you when you cannot carry yourself?  Do you do that for others?

Or is it more about the checklists, like passing through the many gates and checkpoints at modern airports, where you have to repeatedly prove you (a) are who you say you are and (b) have the right documents with you to proceed further?

For without them (the correct documents), you will be found wanting, rejected, disallowed entrance, no matter how great your need, no matter whether you are supposed to be on board or not.

If you can’t prove it, well, you’re just out of luck, aren’t you?

That, I think, is what Barclay is getting at and what Jesus is so frustrated and angered by: the human tendency to take something like grace and make of it a series of rules for an entrance examination only the examiners are qualified to impose, grade, assess, and ultimately judge.

If heaven, if the kingdom on earth as in heaven, is like encountering the TSA in an airport, we are all doomed.  And the greatest and saddest irony of all is that TSA employees stand in the same sandbox when they seek to travel.  The same rules of exclusion apply, which leaves us all standing outside the gates, wondering how on earth we missed a flight we worked so hard to make.

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