Thursday, September 22, 2011

The danger of religion

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)

Matt 21:28-32

Jesus has been in Jerusalem a few days, moving about in the temple area. He doesn't find the warm welcome in the streets that He found in the villages of Galilea. The religious leaders who cross His path try to discredit Him in front of the common people of the capital. They won't rest until they send Him to the cross.

Jesus doesn't lose His calm. With tireless patience He goes on calling them to conversion. He tells them a simple story that just occurs to Him when He sees them: the conversation of a father who asks his two sons to go to work in the family vineyard.

The first rejects the father with a blunt denial: "I will not." He doesn't give him any explanation. He just doesn't want to. However, thinking about it later, he realizes that he's rejecting his father and, repentant, goes to the vineyard.

The second pleasantly heeds his father's request: "I'm going, sir." He seems ready to fulfill his wishes, but soon forgets what he said. He doesn't think about his father again. It was all just words. He doesn't go to the vineyard.

In case they hadn't understood His message, Jesus, addressing "the chief priests and elders of the people," applies the parable to them directly and provocatively: "I assure you that the publicans and prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God before you." He wants them to acknowledge their resistance to getting with the Father's plan.

They are the religious "professionals" -- those who have said a big "yes" to the God of the temple, the experts in worship, the guardians of the law. They feel no need to convert. So when the prophet John comes to prepare the way to God, they tell him "no". When Jesus comes inviting them into His kingdom, they go on saying "no".

By contrast, the tax collectors and prostitutes are the "professionals of sin" -- those who have said a big "no" to the God of religion, those who have put themselves outside the law and holy worship. However, their hearts have remained open to conversion. When John came, they believed him; when Jesus came, they welcomed Him.

Religion doesn't always lead to doing the will of the Father. We can feel confident in fulfilling our religious duties and become accustomed to thinking that we don't need to convert or change. Those who are far from religion are the ones who have to do it. This is why it's so dangerous to substitute religious piety for listening to the Gospel. Jesus said it: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of God, but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven."

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