Gospel Thoughts 29 May 2011, Commandments

May 25, 2011 at 19:03 Leave a comment

In today’s Gospel Story (John 14:15-21) Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”. Following are some ponderings as to what this passage seems to be saying to me as I read it today.

Over the years is that various religious groups have used this passage and others like it from other traditions to impose their standards of conduct and belief on folks both within and outside their own particular organizations, claiming that whatever the issue may be, the organization’s own interpretation comes from the teaching whomever they claim to be their leader.  They have determined that anyone who does not accept a particular teaching or interpretation, or proposes another not in complete accord with that of the organization, is automatically and completely wrong in the eyes of God. Some have stated that they alone are the mediators of God’s love, and set conditions on how their followers can receive this love and share in eternal salvation, of which the threat of withholding is used to keep members in line and reinforce the authority and power of leaders. While any group has the right to determine qualifications for membership in it, and how these various standards are developed and interpreted is a matter internal to the organization, there is a legitimate question as to whether such a group can impose its own standards on folks who are not members, as is happening today with political action groups making demands for the codification in public law of positions that are determined by organizations of religion. The notion that a given religious message is to be ‘proposed’ and not ‘imposed’ is often a stated value rather than an operational value.

In our interpretation of the Christian tradition there is the danger that following Jesus might be reduced to a code of conduct, (night prayer, language, bad words, attendance at worship services, etc) and intellectual acceptance of dogmas, and so on. Folks who perceive themselves to have failed in any of these (missed morning or night or meal prayers, doubted or questioned God, stayed home from Sunday Mass even though they had a high fever, used bad words, entertained bad thoughts, etc) often come to think of themselves as bad. Many folks have come to see following Jesus as irrelevant to real life and dropped it from their list of priorities. As important as the required ideas and codes of behavior might be, they are means to an end (entering into a living relationship with Jesus) and not ends in themselves. They point to Jesus. They are not Jesus, and they are not his commands. They are interpretations of a religious organization and, as such, are internal to the organization. How the members deal with them is up to the members.

It has long been understood that God is infinite, and therefore, no finite words or ideas can even come close to grasping the reality that is God. Our idea of God, whatever it may be, is something we have received from others. Sooner or later on our journey through life we must come to our own experience of God, and make it the basis of our life. Whatever our image of God is, it is not God, but our interpretations of our experience of God. We cannot impose it on anyone else, nor can we let anyone else impose theirs on us. No one, no person no church or religious organization, can make our journey for us.

Throughout history many different traditions have portrayed themselves as the only possible way to a god whom they represent as the only god for everybody all the time. They have maintained various disciplines for their members, some going so far as to determine what their members are allowed to think and talk about under any number of penalties, to the extent of being thrown out of the organization. The underlying premise seems to be that the leadership alone knows what their version of god wants, while the ordinary members cannot know and so must follow and obey. Since this is a matter internal to the organization, it is up to the members to determine what they will do.

Some organizations of religion authorize their members to visit severe penalties, even loss of life, on all who do not believe as they themselves do, aka unbelievers or infidels. This is rampantly obvious today.

Jesus seemed to take issue with people of his day who reduced serving God to the rules imposed on them by a group who felt they knew God better than others and so were qualified to tell others how to live and pray. There seems to be a parallel these days. In his day there was the notion of “unclean” as determined by religious authorities. In some organizations of religion there are current versions of unclean, also as determined by religious authorities; eg, being married outside the organization, not being of the masculine gender, having an unapproved sexual orientation, or, perhaps worst of all, thinking in ways not approved by the party line and the organization’s authorities. The penalties are severe, from being ineligible to partake fully in the organization’s worship rites or share in leadership roles to being expelled from the organization altogether.

Further in the Story Jesus talks about how both he and his Father love his followers. One wonders if God is really all that put off by how the people he creates in love think. The power to think is God’s gift to each of his people. As we heard in last week’s Story, Jesus calls each of us by name and invites us to follow him. He doesn’t require that we take an oath not to think or say the wrong thin (as determined by whatever our organization of religion is).

Just sayin . . .


Entry filed under: Catholic, Current Church, Gospel thoughts, Priest.

Gospel Thoughts 15 May 2011, Good Shepherd Gospel Thoughts 19 June 2011, Trinity Sunday

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