Don’t be a follower! That seems to be the message from Matthew 23. Make your own mind up about things. Don’t stick to rules that someone else has taught you. Don’t copy the actions of people who know that they attract admiration. Now who would that be today? Not religious teacher for sure; footballers, people who win talent shows on TV, currently successful politicians, highly paid people in business suits, people with titles, models, film stars; these people all have to understand that they are admired and that their actions and lifestyle are watched and copied by many. Don’t do it!
Don’t live your life by rules that other people announce, and don’t let your church do it either. Reflect on how our thinking has changed in just 100 years to see how transitory behaviour rules are. Think of the accepted division of servants and landed gentry. Think of the subjugation of women; the clubs they were not allowed to enter, the offices they were not allowed to fill. Think of the unquestioning respect for the rich and titled at the outbreak of the First World War.
The writer of Matthew, sifting through the oral traditions that he inherited to try to get close to the real Jesus, came across many instances, many stories, that showed Jesus’ rejection of the habits and teaching of religious leaders. He understood that Jesus shockingly rejected many respectable practices of religious observance, making friends with untouchable groups of people, those beneath the notice of the cognoscenti.
Most of the Christian Church has now reversed its thinking on evolution; on the structure of the Universe; on the use of Latin, contraceptives, and Sundays; on the position of women. It has taken the Church much longer than the population in general to abandon indefensible positions like those that led to the persecution of Gallileo; the burning of “Heretics”; and the blind eye towards rape within marriage. What is the next issue on which we need to start thinking for ourselves instead of blindly following rules inherited from lovely teachers and parents nevertheless locked in the time-warp of the pharisees?
Gay relationships pose a threat to people still wishing to observe some (but not all) the prohibitions of the Old Testament. As long as we remain followers, heterosexual Christians will experience difficulty with gay lifestyles and with those who practise them. Once we revert to the laws of Jesus, about the supremacy of Love; once we cease judgmental attitudes towards others and allow ourselves to develop our own rules for living; we may find ourselves feeling a great deal of sympathy with two men reviled for holding hands in the street, or wanting to pledge themselves to lifetime partnerships. We might begin to welcome them into our churches with full access to the services that we are pleased to enjoy.
This is the difference between loyalty to the literal interpretation of the Bible, and allowing the Spirit of God to infect us with non-judgmental love for all people. Don’t be a rule follower!
Mervyn posts a reflection each week, he welcomes your contribution, please respond and share in reflection!