What Does God Require?

Feb 10 2016


Here we are on Ash Wednesday beginning the Lenten season, and we can almost bet that the airwaves will be filled with almost every movie that has ever been made regarding the last events of Jesus’ life, usually starting with Palm Sunday and leading up to the Resurrection. If it isn’t a Hollywood production, then it’s an investigation into various religious themes with theological experts expounding on their particular approach.

If we change our focus to the print media, expect at least one edition of TIME Magazine to contain a cover picture and at least one lengthy article about some aspect of the Bible or Jesus. What do all of these approaches have in common? Most of them are based on a literal interpretation of the Bible and most contain within them, a portion of doctrine that proceeds from that literal approach. Periodically, we might hear from a contemporary theologian like Karen Armstrong, but for the most part, I have fits watching this stuff. Why? Because the emphasis is on Jesus’ death, not his life, and deals with a physical Resurrection with no attempt to even approach another way of thinking about the issue.

So my question to you on this holy Ash Wednesday when we begin our particular remembrance of the road to the cross and the Resurrection: Do we want to remember his death or his life? Do we want to remember a bloody cross, or a man sent by God to teach us how to love and live with one another, and how to be in a closer relationship with that God and with one another?

Do we want to concentrate on what horrible people we are and how Jesus had to die for us? Or do we ask that question that will forever be on my mind, and frankly, on the minds of countless individuals with whom I have spoken? Do we ask how a loving God could purposely create human beings who would mess up so badly, knowing ahead of time that we would mess up, thereby necessitating that God would have to send his Son to suffer for us? How could a loving God purposely set the world up for that type of unmitigated disaster? Especially in view of the scientific progress that has been made which negates a literal interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve and thereby negates the reason for the bloody Good Friday sacrifice. If the reason for that sacrifice was the fall, and there was no fall, where does that leave the necessity for the sacrifice?

If we look at the reading in Isaiah, we find at least a partial answer to the questions that I have posed. God asks what kind of fast we think will please God – to humble ourselves, to lie in sackcloth and ashes, to serve our own interests because we think we are fulfilling God’s law? No, says God. The fast I require is much different.

The fast that I require is that you loose the bonds of injustice, that you break yokes, that you let the oppressed go free. The fast that I require is that you feed the hungry, bring the poor into your house, and clothe the naked. This is what God requires. This is what Jesus modeled. Do we really believe that the sole purpose of our lives is to feel bad about who we are? That the sole purpose of our lives is to engulf ourselves with guilt because we are inherently bad people? Do we really believe that our constant self-debasement is what God really wants?

Jesus accepted all who came to him during his life. Jesus preached love and acceptance of all people during his life. Jesus reached out to those who were poor, sick, hungry and homeless and helped them. Jesus challenged the people to reach out to God and to reach out to people with love and care and respect.

If we want to reflect on anything during this Lenten season, let’s reflect on the life of Jesus. Let’s reflect on what his undying love means to us. Let’s reflect on the Seven Last Words as they are called, but reflect on them from the standpoint of the ultimate life of love that Jesus lived and did not abandon as he was dying. Let’s reflect on how we can draw nearer to God and to one another. Let’s reflect on how our lives can mirror the fast that God requires.

Many would like us to think about nothing but the cross, the death, and the sacrifices during this Lenten season. Many would like us to think about nothing more than the tremendous guilt that we should feel because Jesus was crucified. Would we be here today as Christians if Jesus had not been crucified? Perhaps a better question would be: what part of his life and his teachings would have survived as a part of the early Christian church if he had not been crucified?  What part of his teachings would have survived if the early church fathers did not want the power and the political clout that they gained from putting forth their doctrines and dogmas – all with hidden agendas? Would his teachings still be valid? Would his life still hold as much value for us?

The issue is not the death of Jesus, but the life of Jesus. I cannot help but think that if he were here today he would be saying, “Yes, I suffered. But concentrate on my life, not my death. Concentrate on what I taught, not the doctrines you dreamed up for me.”

One more thin that we should consider: the Jews did not crucify Jesus. The Romans crucified Jesus. The Jews had absolutely no power to sentence a man to death by crucifixion. It was a political move to save the power of the religious leaders of the day, just as it has been a political move numerous times in history to save the power of the religious rulers of those days.

The leaders of the Sanhedrin, we are led to believe, coerced Pilate into giving the order. Hard to believe, since no one coerced Roman governors to do anything, much less the religious leaders of the day.

Remember his death. But concentrate on his life. Concentrate on who he called us to become. Concentrate on how the Gospels were written and for what purpose they were written. Concentrate oin the tremendous impact his life had on hiumankind. Do not be misled by the literalists, the religious conservatives, and a bloody, gory cross to the exclusion of a man and a life that changed history for 2,000 years. What would Jesus want us to see? The question isn't what we think WE should require. THe question is: What does GOD require? Amen.