The religious figures of Jesus’ day had it all figured out. They knew the religious system and the religious buzzwords inside and out. They could spout bits of Scripture to prove everything he said was wrong. They called him a “heretic” and worse: one who speaks evil against God.
Jesus’ preaching challenged the doctrines of religious leaders, plainly telling them they were wrong, and that they needed to rethink their beliefs and practices.
It was no longer just enough to SEEM to be doing God’s will, one must actually DO it, he said.
It was not enough to SEEM to be pious, praying publicly with long prayers and fancy words. One must actually BE pious, and do much of it in private.
Intentions mattered as much as outward appearances, said Jesus. And the motives of the heart, which give birth to actions, are important to control (and CAN be controlled) and turned towards Righteousness, so that our actions will also be Righteous.
But it is never easy to challenge religious ideas - especially long-cherished ones. It can hurt feelings and brings great anger.
Yet, Jesus was often blunt, and he knew that he would be met with great anger and even death. And so he was. And in three days, God took Jesus back.
But soon after his death and return to God, others came – as Jesus had predicted – with a different Message, one that was easier, less Godly, and less powerful and challenging to authority.
They called on people to believe special things about his death, but to not worry too much about his teachings and life.
They told people that Jesus wasn’t REALLY calling for us to perform Righteous Works, because we are not capable of them.
God, they claimed, at his own good pleasure, doles out the strength we need in order to do the Good Works, then rewards us for doing what He did through us.
And they elevated Jesus to equality with God, so that he could be admired, and worshiped, but not imitated.
Thus, they put Jesus out of reach, out of touch, and out of our minds as a perfect example to follow, and the Dark Ages and “reformation” which followed did nothing to bring the original Jesus back.
Today, the story that was once powerful and universal is powerful in numbers and wealth, but is almost universally arrogant and prideful.
Shockingly, Christendom today promotes the worship of money, power, and greed, and allows people a “Wide Gate” of easily-obtainable eternal salvation at the drop of a check, after spouting an unbiblical, simple prayer.
Christendom – particularly PROTESTANT Christendom – teaches that we may, without repentance or Good Works, and with only a few magic words, steal from God the salvation promised through His messenger, even though Jesus told us that this was available to us ONLY if we repented and worked Righteousness.
A movement that started off with such promise, but gained earthly power and dominance at the cost of its soul, is in need of a fuller, more complete Reformation.
What originally was a call to greatness through perfect Love and a call to serve God and other people through complete self-sacrifice stands in desperate need of renewal.
What is easy to purchase with a quick prayer and a promise of wealth must be rejected and confronted as false and contrary to Jesus’ express teachings.
What is incomprehensible and man-made must be stripped off like a layer of suffocating paint, so the original Truths of Jesus may shine through and breathe again.
What became large and lethargic must become again humble and holy, less demeaning and more dynamic in its evaluation of what we, as God’s creatures are both called to do and capable of doing for others and our Creator, God.
Today, as we embark once again on the Way Jesus preached, we must also dare to boldly question today's religious leaders' long-held, man-made beliefs as well as some even less attractive alternatives which call us to look inward and serve only ourselves, rejecting both God and Jesus without doing the hard work of discerning God’s will for our lives and learning Jesus’ true message.
Like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, today’s religious leaders are not going to be very happy about being challenged, either. But we owe it to God and the one whom God sent to us – the man, Jesus, our Master – to become merely Jesus Followers and servants of God once again.