Wow! Thursday again already! Time for more of Jesus' Gospels, in our chronological trek through the Good News that's REALLY good news!
As always, our past Gospel studies can be found here under the "Gospels" tag.
Our scriptures to read for this study are located here.
This week, we'll be starting to look at what Jesus thought of religious rules and religious lifestyles. The Good Religious People who worship in "Christian" "churches" and spend their spiritual energies creating and feeding religious human organizations have spent nearly 2,000 years telling us that being a follower of and loving Jesus Christ means rules (even those who claim to only be about "love" and not rules still have rules like "you owe us coming to our 'church' and putting money in our till/collection plate"). But does Jesus go along with that? How or how not?
I had intended to cover several stories, but the first one here has a lot of info that's very foundational to understanding the real Jesus. So I will just do this one today, and the others next week.
So - First, we get to read what happened when Jesus called a man named Matthew (also called Levi) to follow him, and Matthew responded. Lots going on in this story!
The most obvious thing is that Matthew made his living by tax collecting. That meant he was a Jew who made other Jews cough up not only what big taxes their Roman occupiers required, but also what he decided to add on top of that for his "fee" (all of which was perfectly legal and standard practice in conquered nations under the Roman Empire). And he did get to decide to add whatever he liked on top. It's not hard to figure out why such tax collectors were always well off financially (something our culture, which says anything that's profitable is good, and anything highly profitable is better, even when it hurts others or causes damage).
But the Gospels tell us that Matthew walked away from all of that. Did he do so because he had a new political awakening or through Jesus now understood the oppressive nature of The System? Nope. He did so because his heart sensed something incredibly awesome in the man who simply said "Follow Me" – and Matthew followed his heart. Now, the Gospels don't say, but it's a good guess that Matthew was already at least somewhat unhappy in his current life. He was making good money, yes, and enjoying all the material goodies that always come from that, yes. But even today those of us who've made good money in our lives, but whose hearts have still (perhaps only secretly) sensed something big still missing, find an easier time responding to Jesus' call than those who are happy with what the world has to offer. We'll see Jesus comment on that more than once, in future studies.
If you're reading this blog, it's likely that your own heart isn't really happy with what the world (which includes the religious world) has to offer. Your heart may pretend to be satisfied to everyone else, but inside? Ugh! Not so good. Or it might even pretend to be satisfied to you too, but then you find you're never finally happy with things. Always have to have or try something new. New car. New house. New phone. New 'church'. New religion. Even new people. And on and on and on. And those things do seem to "work" for a time, don't they? But then that "unfilled" feeling comes back again. What a pain!
Thing is, all those things (including all those religious things) are just more creations of human hands. Even when they are "religious" they are still external to your heart. When those like Matthew sense God, though, that's finally the internal answer to their internal yearning.
In what ways have you worked in your life to fill your internal heart yearning with external things? What are ways you pay attention to or ignore your heart that would help you hear or block you from hearing Jesus' call to follow Him?
But what else is going on in this story? Well, we see more accusations and judgment against Jesus by Good Religious People. Why this time? Because Jesus was breaking one of the first big religious rules Good Religious People ever created (and have always loved to live by):
"Don't tarnish yourself (or your daily living or your family or your 'church' or whatever) with sinners and other people you're superior to (which includes anyone you hate)."
Matthew used his money and opened his home in celebration, welcoming Jesus into his life and introducing Him to a huge crowd of his friends and neighbors at a big dinner party – he invited and celebrated Jesus all within the realm of his every-day life. It's doubtful he knew it at the time, but Matthew was already spreading the Good News – being an evangelist – wasn't he?
What would the Good Religious People have done, though? Well, even if they had thought highly of Jesus (hah!), they would have hidden Him away in their own religious establishments and homes, "safe" from having the sin and nonconformity of those they were "superior" to rub itself in His / their lives. They would have "proved" how much respect and admiration they had for Him by making sure only people as "righteous" as they were had full access to Him – just like Good Religious People do even today, pretending they can lock up God's truth within their "churches" and denominations and magisteriums and elder councils, so God's truth is "safe" from other people (even other Good Religious People) who aren't like them.
Should I even bother to ask which way of welcoming Jesus and caring for and about the Gospel is not only the way Jesus wants it, but also the way that actually works (meaning, it actually spreads Jesus' Good News and not just one or another brand of religious human ideas about Jesus' Good News?) Once again, despite the assertions and traditions of even highly educated and scholarly Good Religious People, the Bible itself tells us the real answer!
But I will ask this: what ways have you messed up, trying to keep Jesus and the Gospel "safe" from the taint of sinners and even your own every-day living? And if you thought yourself doing "better" than that in "your" street and related ministries because you don't use the traditional "church" doo-dads and words and such, how often do you check to make sure you aren't just pushing out old ways of keeping the Gospel your own until folks believe the way you do or understand "enough" for you, and so on? How do you make sure you aren't selling the same old religious crap with a pride-filled, modern "hipster" sheen on it, like the "Emergent", "House Church", and related "movements" of today?
Ok – what else is there in this story? One more big thing – in fact, possibly the biggest thing on this story.
What's funny (but not in a ha-ha way) is that Good Religious People like to see this last thing as if it was a good thing for them – instead of a huge condemnation of them that should send them shuddering in tears, crashing to their knees, begging God to forgive this huge sin.
But that's actually Jesus' whole point, spoken (as if often was) straight to the people who would always refuse to hear it, for the benefit of the sinners and rejects who would realize and take comfort from what He was saying.
So let's look at it. All three Gospel writers tell it basically the same, though Matthew (yes, the same Matthew who had been a tax collector) remembered an extra line so I'll re-quote his here (see the scripturesfor today again, to see what little difference there really is between the three):
Jesus to the Good Religious People: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice'. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
Now, to the standard religious ear – and to the ear of those who've been taught to interpret the Bible according to standard religious human ideas of the Bible – that's pretty straightforward. They think it means God sees righteous people (and that means Good Religious People, of course) as spiritually healthy and not needing fixing – but those sinner people (meaning everyone else) need to get their sick act together and start also being Good Religious People for God!
Is that right? Not on your life!
One thing to know about Jesus is that He often said things that force us to think outside the world and religious boxes to "get" His truth. Why? Because we all live in a huge fog of human ideas of all kinds (religious, but also scientific, cultural, family, etc etc etc) all around us all the time, from birth to death, and it's very rare that we ever realize these things are just human ideas unless something occurs that snaps us out of that brain-fog and into alertness and clarity of heart-vision. That's why simply taking the Bible literally (instead of taking the Bible's MEANING literally) is always a huge disaster (and a real treat to the devil). If we don't get His real meaning, we're like people who hear a joke but instead of "getting" it we take it seriously. Just to make the point, consider this example – if I tell this joke, which person actually "gets" my intended meaning?
Q: Why did the chicken cross the road halfway?
A: She wanted to lay it on the line.
A: She wanted to lay it on the line.
- Person A: (laughter – or possibly laughing and booing :-) )
- Person B: "Well, it's very dangerous for any animal to be allowed to get into any road. If there was a lot of traffic she would lay her life on the line, for sure, but not for any good cause! Someone should make that chicken's owner be more responsible! And you know that chickens often just lay their eggs wherever they happen to be, so of course there's going to be a big egg mess if they're let out into the road like that. That also creates a health hazard, having that all food all over the road, rotting in the sun..." (and so on)
Obviously both people are processing the joke's information through their brains – but only Person A truly understood what was communicated. Person B might even be someone who's spent years getting several PhDs in chickology – but truly, Person B hasn't understood a darn thing.
That's exactly how it is with Good Religious People who sincerely believe they "get" His intended meaning better than anyone else – when actually they understand little to nothing (while even someone uneducated and illiterate could "get" it and laugh along with the Lord.)
So back to what Jesus said about the healthy and the sick and so on. The Good Religious People who were cranking on Him obviously imagined themselves the cream of God's crop and as the only people God had anything to do with or would call. But to their attitude Jesus answered:
- Those who are "healthy" like Good Religious People are don't have any sense of their need for God. Only "sick" sinners need God.
- Good Religious People need to spend their study time on a new lesson: God wants the good that comes from a heart, and not participation in religious rituals (even ones He previously said people should do).
- Jesus isn't for people who are already "righteous" like Good Religious People – they don't believe they need His cleaning up for heaven. But He is for "sinners" who do need and want a clean-up, making sure they're ready for heaven.
This is a message Jesus delivers to Good Religious People time and time again (sometimes even very bluntly) in the Gospels. So, what's Jesus' real meaning here? And is it likely the Good Religious People He spoke to "got" it?
Obviously everyone is actually a sinner - including Good Religious People. Most of the Bible is documented evidence of just how sinful everyone - often especially but still always Good Religious People - are. But even outside the Bible, to know this all we have to do is look at the likes of the so-called "Family Research Council" and Roman Church to see how hideously, painfully sinful Good Religious People are.
But Good Religious People have various ways of convincing themselves (if not us) that even though they are "technically" sinners they are actually really righteous. So the Good Religious People of 2,000 years ago would go make sacrifices at the temple to "prove" how "repentant" (but really "righteous") they were, and through the centuries other Good Religious People have done their own version of that. Today evangelicals, for example, like to feel secure in the idea that they are heaven-bound by the blood of Jesus no matter what they do, and roman catholics like to feel secure in the idea that if they kneel before another human being and repeat assigned rote prayers they are heaven-bound - even when both groups wrap their lives and hearts around slaughtering other "evil" people in war, spiritually abusing Gays and woman, protecting "clergy" even when they sexually assault children and deceive "their" flock, and twisting the Gospel to match their own spiritual wickedness. Even though Jesus and the Bible says it's only the heart that allows the real Holy Spirit (not the one the devil fakes so well) to shine through into one's every-day living that's going to heaven – and that Holy-Spirit heart only happens after a sincere (and repeated) desire to flush the selfish and materialistic and power-based crap from one's heart so there's room for Jesus' way, instead.
So, what happens if someone's so sick they think they don't need medicine, and they refuse the healer's help? And what happens if someone does that for so long the healer doesn't bother with them anymore, since there are others who need healing who do want to get well?
Jesus' point to the Good Religious People that day was basically this: "You think you don't need God, so you don't get God. You think you know what God wants, but you need to rethink your entire approach because you're totally off base. I'm not here for you who want that version of God or Messiah who fits within the human religion you've created - I'm only here for people who really want (real) Me and good even a trillionth as much as I want them."
And that's what should have staggered the Good Religious People that day: God so close – standing right there! – and yet walking away from them. And that, my friends, is called "hell".
So what about you? How have you missed Jesus' intended meaning in your life? When was that because you had been taught to miss it, and when was it because you just preferred to miss it (we all have lots of both!) What liberation and freedom comes to you and your life when you start to really "get" Jesus' message? Are you freed finally from being a Good Religious Person? Or freed from the ungodly mind- and heart-traps Good Religious People lay for everyone else? Perhaps freed from both?
Good Religious People tell us constantly how in danger of hell-fire the rest of us are. I still remember seeing a Good Religious Man standing outside a Gay Pride event in downtown Portland in 1980, carrying a huge sign that said, "Turn or burn!". Now, truly, I'm sure there were many Gay people there that day who needed to turn their hearts away from evil and towards God – just as there were many straight people in the big outdoor market next door who needed to do the same (in other words, their sexual orientation had nothing to do with it). But according to the Bible who was truly most in jeopardy of hell-fire that day – the Gay "sinners" who still might hear the real Jesus (if they only stopped listening to Good Religious People), or the "righteous" man who screamed judgment at them?
Jesus already knew the Good Religious People there that day weren't really going to listen to Him (only a tiny few ever did), but the "sinners" and other "rejects" around Him also got to hear what Jesus (and therefore God, once they later realized Jesus was God) actually thought about the so-called "righteousness" of the Good Religious People. They got to see how completely unimpressed He was with them, and how small He considered the chances of the "righteous" to get God, while He obviously believed wholeheartedly in how spiritually productive "sinners" could be. What does it mean to your life to know that Jesus not only spends nearly all His time with "sinners" and "rejects", but also makes sure they can see He's not part of the Good Religious People crowd or their way of thinking?
Just how far is the real Jesus of the Bible from the human-created religious "Jesus" you were taught or perhaps even hear about from Good Religious People today? Do you have (or begin to get) the idea of just how far apart those two really are? Can you sense yet just how much the real Jesus wants to be part of your every-day life, celebrating with you as much as He cries with you, without needing or even wanting any taint of the "religious" to be part of your relationship with Him? What would make that even better or easier for you to see and "get", and what can you do to open yourself up to Jesus' gift that way?
Until next week!
This article written by Lynne at No Junk. Just Jesus. You can always contact me (Lynne) at NoJunkJustJesus@gmail.com.