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quod pro nobis traditum est

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Faith - a spiritual and religious exercise

The traditional Gospel reading for last Sunday, the Third Sunday after Epiphany, is Matthew 8:1-13. This is a good example of faith and worship together. In this case, we see the faith of the leper and then of the centurion, whose servant was at home with palsy. Both of these men approach Jesus in faith and in a posture of worship. Of the centurion, Jesus marvels and says that he has not "found such great faith, not even in Israel." It is not hard to see the connection between faith and healing in this text. Yet, we also see the leper at worship and the centurion with all of his authority pleading to Jesus that he is not worthy enough for Jesus to come under his roof (or for Jesus to come into his home). (This humility we echo in receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord in the blessed Eucharist.)

Popular Christianity emphasizes faith in connection with health, wealth, success and prosperity. Although now another extreme in the opposite direction seems to have captured the imagination and occupied the hearts of some. Jumping beyond these materialistic answers to faith, this text relates faith to worship and a right worship involves faith in Christ. Faith and worship go together. As the Introit says, "Adore God, all you His Angels."

Since worship is tied to religion and religious practice this all gets tossed about with the popular notion of being "spiritual" without being "religious." In other words, we can be "spiritual" without the trappings of "religion" and, lately, Jesus is "spiritual" but not "religious". There is a lot packed into why people may feel obligated to make this distinction. Certainly, faith is every day and not just attendance at worship. Yet there is also the consideration that if faith is every day then coming to God in worship is included in that daily faith. That is, faith does not pit worship against life or vice versa. Neither, it may be argued, would faith pit being spiritual and being religious against each other, or Jesus against religion.

No religious person denies that Jesus is spiritual. While Jesus abhorred religious abuse and corruption he did not abolish religion or religious practice. This idea about Jesus is more a contemporary sentiment. Jesus, on the contrary, comes to "fulfill" the law. This fulfillment has a lot to do with our salvation, especially since we are sinners. How then is it that Jesus, who is "spiritual" is also "religious?" Take another look at the Gospel from last Sunday. The Evangelist records that after healing the leper of his leprosy, Jesus says to him, "...go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." Jesus leads the leper, a man of faith, to fulfill the religious requirements.

To those who study and hear the Scripture this is nothing new. Yet to the "spiritual" minded who may have drifted away from religion and religious practice this upholding of religious practice by Jesus may be something to consider, and consider seriously. For Jesus is certainly not interested in undermining the healed leper's faith. This would not be spiritually wise. Rather, faith sees the place where the material and immaterial, the invisible and visible, or the human and divine, come together. It is not as simple as rationalizing a distinction between what is spiritual from what is religious and creating a faith that I am comfortable with. Jesus is a religious man and by faith we meet him spiritually and religiously in worship.

"Adore God, all you His Angels."