Monday, January 23, 2012

I Love Jesus and Religion

For anyone who may be out of the loop, there has been a video circulating called “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus.”  Many responses to said video have cropped up, with people both praising it and others harshly criticizing it.  If you have yet to view it, check here:

I find that while the author makes some good points, there are many things I think he gets wrong.  First, he starts with the statement “What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion.”  This I strongly disagree with.  Jesus was a practicing Jew, and his message was largely to the Jewish people who were awaiting the Messiah (Hebrew) or Christ (Greek).  Many times Jesus is seen teaching in synagogues and also celebrating the various Jewish, most notably the Passover before his death.  He even said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them,” (Matt. 5:17).

Now about the whole “religion starts wars, fails to feed the poor,” etc., yes, that has happened historically.  But here’s the thing:  we’re all human and we’re all fallen creatures in need of God’s grace.  Are we quick to judge at times?  Yes.  Are we going to look out for ourselves instead of others at times?  Yes.  Are we perfect?  Absolutely not.  Jesus knew all this when he formed his disciples.  Look at them, and really take a close look.  Fishermen, tax collectors, zealots:  all groups who were certainly not at the top of the pyramid.  Look at Peter, James and John, Thomas, Judas; a fine example of “rag tag” if ever there was one.

Yet, it as Paul wrote in 1 Cor 1:27, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”  This is why throughout history in the Catholic Church, many popes are in a sense terrified at being elected, unlike today’s politicians who revel in it and celebrate it.

Thankfully, Jesus gave us hope when he established this New Covenant.  Look at these statements:

“I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matt. 16:18b)
“I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20b)

Hypocrisy gets some noted face time as well.  Again, we’re human and not perfect.  I know all too well that there are hypocrites out there; the Catholic Church is tragically well known for this.  Terms like “Chreaster” or “Ash/Palm” Catholics get thrown around (Chreaster is fairly universal in any church).  It does bother me that people, especially Catholics, are not serious about their faith and simply go through the motions, but I cannot change their hearts; only God can.

“Jesus and religion are on opposites spectrums.  One’s the work of God, the other’s a man-made invention.”  Hardly, since Jesus established the New Covenant to fulfill God’s original promise.  As mentioned above, Jesus said, “I will build my church.”  Even the Pharisee Gamaliel admitted this when the disciples were brought before the Sanhedrin, saying,

“Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men.  Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.  Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” (Acts 5:35-39)

The well known saying “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” is a perfect metaphor for the Church.  Despite the various weak links that have strained the Church, still it stands as Jesus promised it would.

For those also interested, here's a response video:

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Christmas Clarity

As Christmas came upon us, I'm sure many of us saw nativity scenes/creche with the shepherds, magi, Mary and Joseph, and various animals all around the manger with a star above the stable. We have sung many carols as well, like "The First Nowell." While such a song and scene are nice and remind us of the story, they paint an inaccurate picture of the events that we read in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

To start, we look at Luke, which has details regarding Jesus' actual birth. This is where we receive the details of Mary and Joseph being turned away because there was no room in the inn, so they had to stay in a stable, which is where Mary gives birth. Shortly after this, the scene cuts to shepherds watching over their flocks. An angel appears, telling them the news of the Christ being born and where to find this newborn child. Notice there is no mention of a star or magi.

Now we turn to Matthew. Here, the birth itself is glossed over, with attention more on Joseph's actions (1:18-25). Chapter 2 then turns to the Magi, who come to Jerusalem looking for the "King of the Jews". We are familiar with the events: Herod wants to know where the child is also to kill him, the Magi are told to not go back, and Herod goes on a rampage. However, there are a couple key details to note. We read in 2:7 that Herod finds out when the star first appeared. This is what aids him in his decision to kill all boys in the vicinity under the age of two (2:16). It seems highly likely then, that Jesus is a toddler at this point. Also, the Magi do not come to a stable, but a house (2:11), so the Holy Family has found permanent residence by the time these Magi arrive with their three kinds of gifts. And speaking of, we do not know how many Magi there were. I'd like to think there was a sizable group of these foreigners, but that detail is omitted.

It is because of these details that we celebrate the visit of the Magi separately from Christmas in the feast of Epiphany, which is Jan. 6 (the twelfth day of Christmas). Many parishes with nativity scenes may move the Magi away, but then bring them closer as Epiphany approaches, symbolizing their journey.

The Magi themselves, according to scholars, could have been Chaldeans or from another Eastern culture. These men were astronomers essentially, hence why the star is instrumental in their search. This should further impress us that even these Gentiles recognized that something incredible had occurred, while many Jews missed it entirely, which is seen throughout Jesus' ministry.