Practicing Religion or Following Jesus?

Jesus went around helping people.  He healed people, cast demons out of people, and even raised the dead a few times.  One would think that this is a good thing.  Yet, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day got mad a few times about Jesus helping others.  Imagine that, people who claim to love and follow God getting mad at someone for helping others in a positive way.

So, why did they get mad at Jesus?

Because He broke the rules of their religion.  Rather, I should say that he went against their interpretation of the rules.

One story stands out to me as I just read it in my daily reading time.  It’s found in Mark 3 and it’s about Jesus healing a man with a withered hand.  There’s nothing in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) about healing a man with a withered hand so what was the problem?  The problem is that Jesus did it on the Sabbath, and no work was to be done on the Sabbath.

This man could have been healed Sunday through Friday with no problems.  Just don’t do it on the Sabbath. He can suffer one more day.  He’s suffered this long, what’s one more day?

Jesus boils the issue down to this:  is it wrong to do right on the Sabbath? What are we supposed to do, leave people helpless or help people?  Keep the rule of Sabbath and break the rule of love, or break the Sabbath in order to show someone love?

And that’s a problem that we Christians are still facing 2,000 years later.  Not the part about the Sabbath, but about leaving people helpless or helping them.

Many times before we want to help someone we want information.  Is this person “living in sin”?  Do they tithe to the church?  Are they on drugs or alcohol?  Are they “shacking up” or married?  Are they homosexual or straight?  We do this trying to determine whether they are worthy of our help.

I know that sounds harsh but it’s true.  As a pastor, I have done it (in times past before I learned better).  I have heard other Christians talk about how they have done it as well.  I remember when my sister when to a mission’s outreach in her town to get help with a light bill.  She had just gotten married and they were struggling financially.  She had an 18-month old son from a previous relationship.  When the mission coordinator found about her son being born out of wedlock, he told her she could have the assistance, but she would have to attend a counseling session for having the baby out of wedlock.

What purpose did that serve?  I know that this ministry had their reason, and in their mind they believed that they were helping her. Were they really?  To me, they helped with a bill, but left her feeling condemned and unworthy.  I wonder if that minister had any skeletons in his closet.

The point here is that many times we leave people helpless because they don’t follow our rules.  They don’t measure up to our version of Christianity.  Like the man with the withered hand, they can come back another day when they aren’t breaking the rules.

We Christians have many ideas of what it means to serve and follow God. Some are into rules and commandments, being sure to not break any of God’s laws.  But is God into rules?  If you look at the 10 commandments, then some would argue yes.  But what is the spirit behind the commandments?  Isn’t it loving God and loving people?  At least, that’s what Jesus said.

When asked what the greatest commandment is, he replied:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.  And love your neighbor as yourself.”  He went on to say that all the Law and the prophets hinged on these two commandments.  So, it’s not really about rules, commands and regulations.

It’s about love.

And, that what is what life is all about.  Love.

Loving God.

Loving Ourselves.

Loving Others.

So, when someone comes to me with a need, and I have the ability to meet that need, will I look at them with love, or will I look at them trying to determine if they have kept the rules enough to be worthy of my help?    Will I tell them to come back another day when they have the rules right?  Will I help them regardless?

Personally, I like rules.  To me, they bring structure and order.  However, it can also lead me to be self-righteous when I follow the rules and others do not.  People’s worthiness isn’t determined by the rules they do or don’t keep.  Their worthiness is determined by their Creator, who died for them.

As I said I like rules, but I have also been known to break rules.  That’s why I am glad that Jesus gave us a new command in this statement:  “You are to love others as I have loved you.”  So, Jesus has loved me and helped me even when I broke rules.  Can I do anything less for others?

If I want to be a true disciple of Jesus, then I must help people when I am able to do so.  If my Christianity is leaving people helpless and not helping them, then maybe I am simply practicing a religion and not really following Jesus.

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