Religion or Relationship–Part 2

When I think about religion without relationship, I i immediately see the Pharisees with the formal robes, and tassels, their miniature torahs tucked in their sleeve, and their brow knit in a constant frown of disapproval toward the common man. Jesus, kind, gentle, winsome Jesus, was anything but kind when he faced this crowd of religious fanatics. Instead he was outraged. He spoke harshly to them and about them, warning others against such white washed religion. But Jesus was not saying that the Pharisees are the hallmark of religion, and therefore decrying religion. What he taught was that the Pharisees had taken something good and turned it into evil. Jesus never taught that we can worship God without a designed form. What he did teach was that the form of God’s design should be honored as the framework for a relationship, not the building blocks for one’s own pride.

I am reminded of Jesus’ assertion, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Love is a basis for relationship, while keeping commandments is a form of faith or worship (ie religion).  Jesus did not seek relationships outside of this form and that is why in John we read that, “Many of his disciples turned back and followed him no more.”They wanted to be one of Jesus’ cronies, but they didn’t want to have to face the difficult road of discipleship.  They wanted a relationship without form. And Jesus just wasn’t offering that. On the other hand, when he asked the 12, “Will you also turn back?” Peter bravely replied, “To whom else shall we go? We have believed and are convinced that you are the Christ of God.” His devotion to Christ rose out of a deep conviction that Jesus  was indeed the Messiah. And because of this conviction, a relationship with Jesus that involved a prescribed standard was not repugnant. Rather it was inviting.

The religion Jesus calls for is one that fosters relationship. Perhaps what we mean when we say, “It’s not a religion; it’s a relationship,” would be better said, “It’s not a religion without relationship.” For one without the other is pure folly.

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