Some Sunday School laughs:
1. A ten-year old, being taught by her grandmother, was becoming quite knowledgeable about the Bible. One day, however, she floored her grandmother by asking: "Which Virgin was the mother of Jesus? The Virgin Mary or the King James Virgin?"
2. Moses led the Hebrews to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients.
3. The first commandment was when Eve told Adam to eat the apple.
4. St. John, the Blacksmith, dumped water on his head.
5. A Christian should have only one wife. This is called monotony.
6. The epistles were the wives of the apostles.
Much of the Old Testament : as found in today's Reading from the Book of Deuteronomy - was about pleasing God by obeying the Statutes, Decrees, the Ten Commandments in order that God would keep the Covenant made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses. To this the Prophets began offering a more personal view of pleasing a personal God, Whose mercy, love and forgiveness should take precedence over the more legalistic view of today's Reading from the Book of Deuteronomy. "The Lord is God and there is no other" is a standard to apply to all of our actions. However, it is "easy Religion" to fall back into an attitude that if we just "obey authorities"; we will be good Christians. The problem with this view is that "the authorities have made many rules that are based on their ideas, not God's. Jesus condemned the Pharisees and the Scribes because they made rules that burdened people, yet they themselves did not keep. It was this idea that people can make rules and try to enforce them as coming from God that Jesus was condemning.
At the Last Supper Jesus changed the "rules of the game". He gave one Commandment : "Love one another as I have loved you". He made salvation rely upon our own consciences, if we make the sincere effort to form them by prayers, meditation and sound thought.
In short, the movement has been this:
1. "Obey My Statues, Decrees and Commandments" to
2. The more personal relationship we should have with a personal, loving and merciful God to
3. We are the "religious authorities"; you must obey what we say, even if we have made up many rules ourselves to
4. "I leave you one Commandment "That you love one another"; which one Commandment takes in all that God wishes and leaves us free to deal with religious rules as our conscience tells us.
In the Letter of Paul to the Romans Paul emphasizes our free will. We can live "according to the flesh". If we do so, we become concerned about the "things of the flesh". In a general sense, this is found in the slogan: "If it feels good, do it"!
We are surrounded by "things of the flesh". We live in a time of great and multiple temptations. We can buy so much; we can do so much; we can keep our money and wealth as our own; and we do not recognize that "the earth is the Lord's and all that is in it". But the price of this "concern with 'things of the flesh'" is that we very easily forget about our loving and merciful God.
This lack of concern for God, or perhaps putting God number 10 in our list of values, has already struck much of the developed world. It is extremely so in Europe and is becoming so in the United States. We first need to know God through meditation and prayer which is being squeezed out of our lives by so many material good and activities. Our world tells us to "take it easy"; "enjoy yourselves"; "keep what you have" and "you really do not have to share with your brothers and sisters in God".
The "things of the flesh" are real in our day and age; they surround us and they are the temptations which Paul tells the Romans to avoid in order to be able to "live according to Holy Spirit". "The way of the Spirit" let's us see God as the most important part of our life. We then can put in first place THE COMMANDMENT OF JESUS to "Love one another as I have loved you".
As Paul says, we then experience life and peace. We also become adopted children of God and heir with Jesus. Heirs of Jesus : not to have many material things : but to be concerned with the "things of God" as the most important part of our lives. We cannot take material things with us when we die. But is we "live according to the Spirit" the passage to heaven is a short and happy one.
The Gospel of Matthew tells of a different perspective of the Resurrection and the 40 days to Christ's Ascension. Matthew has Jesus appearing to both Mary Magdalene and another Mary who believe that He has risen from the dead. But the story immediately shifts to Galilee, the home country of Jesus.
The same "Wobbly Faith" story as we looked at before strengthens our Faith in a funny way. The disciples were in Galilee. Matthew says that the "saw Him" and yet they doubted. In a human way we should ask why should Jesus trust these "doubters". But, instead, He gives these doubting persons His mission to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit". Then Jesus goes further telling them that "I will be with you always, until the end of the age".
Jesus know what He was doing : He was using the "weak of this world to confound the strong". Funny.
But that is what we - "the weak" - with all our own failings and doubts are now to do in the 21st century. Funny, but true.