Today’s readings:
Psalms 34; 146, Jeremiah 7:21-34, Romans 4:13-25, John 7:37-52

Here’s a question loaded with potential paradox: can the Bible, which warns us against idolatry, itself become an object of idolatry?

Let’s consider the Pharisees in today’s reading from John. As they tried to determine who this Jesus person was and what he meant to the Jews, they consulted their scriptures. We tend to peg the Pharisees as villains, but in truth they resembled some of today’s Christians, struggling to obey every jot and tittle of their sacred texts. The Pharisees knew Jesus as a Galilean, and therefore dismissed him as a messianic candidate since their sources said the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. No prophet at all was expected from Galilee. Yes, they were ignorant of the facts surrounding Jesus’ birth, but weren’t they also guilty of ignoring the evidence in front of them, evidence the less pious correctly accepted? The Pharisees idolized their scriptures over the Truth before them. Those same scriptures we revere today.

Ever seen the bumper sticker that reads: “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it”? We like to believe we would have seen things differently than the Pharisees, but our bumper stickers say otherwise. Perhaps it’s not the Bible itself we idolize, but our confidence in our own understanding of it. This tendency is not limited to either conservative or liberal readers of the Bible. While the former may forego nuance and context, the latter can deconstruct it to the point of meaninglessness. Exaggerated self-confidence wears no particular political stripe. Sometimes we all prefer certainty to mystery.

If we close our minds to new understanding of scripture, we may miss the Truth in front of us. We do not trust God because the Bible says to—we trust the Bible because we trust God. Many life experiences will not fit our understanding of scripture. At these times we do not abandon scripture for ease or convenience, but would be wise to humbly heed the advice of Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Comfort: We are meant to wrestle with scripture.

Challenge: Meditate on how experience defies your expectations.

Prayer: God of holy mystery, I trust you above anything. Amen.

Discussion: How has your relationship with the Bible evolved over time?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Ideology or Idolatry?


Today’s readings:
Psalms 104; 149, Isaiah (42:18-25) 43:1-13, Ephesians 3:14-21, Mark 2:23-3:6

Ideology is a sneaky devil. When we are born into one, we usually don’t even think of it as an ideology, but simply as the way things are – or should be. For example, capitalism is the dominant economic ideology of the western world. We talk about it as though it is an actual entity, but in truth it is a collective agreement to adhere to a set of principles. No one still living was party to the original “agreement,” but centuries later we all (for the most part) continue to operate under its rules.

As with any ideology, over time there has been a subtle but consistent shift of how we think about it: those who originally adopted the principles did so to serve society; today we consider those principles essential to our identity, and often behave as though society exists to serve them.

Unadulterated capitalism – like any economic theory – is neither practical nor, in the long term, beneficial so we have tempered it with some socialist practices, yet we can’t even bring ourselves to call them that. To sustain an ideology we must turn a blind eye to its faults, often at our own peril.

In many Gospel stories, Jesus rejected cultural ideology in order to serve humanity. After he plucked grain and healed a man on the Sabbath, in violation of Hebrew ideology, the Pharisees started conspiring to destroy him. His admonition that “the Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath” did not move them. Jesus knew that their ideology had become idolatry: they placed the letter of the scripture above the intent of God.

What ideologies have we turned into idolatries? The Pharisees were certain of their rigid interpretation of scripture. Should we be as sure of our own? Have we ever defended or attacked an idea simply because the “other side” criticized or promoted it? The worst examples may be when we let political, religious, and economic ideologies blend into an unexamined hodgepodge that corrupts faith into an excuse to neglect and abuse our fellow humans.

When we are most sure of our ideologies, we are least able to consider them wisely, so they are the most dangerous. Wisdom tells us mercy trumps idolatrous laws. By example Christ teaches us to examine them and use them to serve, not to blindly bend to them. God trusts us to think. Let’s trust God enough to do so.

Comfort: It’s perfectly acceptable to question what you’ve been taught to believe.

Challenge: Ask questions.

Prayer: God of truth and mercy, I will serve the law of love and the gospel of peace. Amen.

Discussion: Some people assume questioning something will lead to rejecting it. How do you feel about that?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!