Tag Archives: religion


I once heard two Baptist ministers on TV say that anyone who does not profess Jesus to be his or her Lord and Savior is doomed to everlasting damnation. No exceptions. Innocent ignorance and good intentions notwithstanding, anyone who does not accept Jesus as the one and only Savior is condemned to everlasting torture.

Here we are once again with a Gospel reading that seems to say what we find impossible to accept, something we know to be unreasonable and untrue. You just heard the words attributed to Jesus by the Gospel writer, this time St. John, that whoever does not believe in Jesus as God’s only Son and the Savior of the world has already been condemned. What are we to make of such a statement? Well, I suggest that this is what we do with it:

1. We start with the fact that through the entire first century, the infant church did not have the bible that we have today; there was a word of mouth tradition, the faith being passed on from person to person and generation to generation under the leadership of the apostles and their successors. The church was like a classroom that had a teacher and an eager body of learners – but not yet a textbook. The formation of the Christian faith community came first; the textbook — the bible — was being developed and refined at the same time.

2. We admit that both the Old and the New Testaments contain many vengeful statements, as they are called, that sound hard, even cruel, and we realize that they have to be understood in the context of love. I think no one has expressed that better than the authors of the brilliant little book, Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God. Listen to this quote from page 13: “…we use vengeful punishment language all the time in our homes and families. Such statements are exaggerations (hyperbole) that can be safely used only in a context where everyone understands that they are not to be taken literally…”

Later on the authors say that when Jesus intervened in the about-to-take-place stoning of a woman accused of adultery, he was telling the scribes and Pharisees that they were not to interpret literally those words of Moses which commanded the violent execution of such a sinner.

3. We must read or hear the bible always with common sense! We can be sure that Jesus and the Spirit of God expect that of us. If I tell you that I am blue today, I assume you know that the comment has nothing to do with my skin color, but only with my mood. If you tell me that there were a million people at the dinner last night, I know you mean many, not a thousand thousand. Similar adjustments and accommodations that we make all the time must also be made when we are reading or hearing the ancient scriptures.

With these guidelines in mind, we can be certain that Jesus is not saying what the two ministers interviewed on TV claimed he was saying: that those who don’t know or follow Jesus are on their way to eternal damnation. No, what he was saying is that the first and most basic duty of every human being is to try to find the truth in all things and then to live by it, to look for the light and to walk toward it and then in it. Truth and light will lead us to goodness and love. Jesus is truth and light, and all persons, regardless of their religion, who make goodness and love the essential standards of their lives, walk in the company of Jesus, whether they recognize him or not.

Saints are in every religion – and many are in none! Let us love and respect one another, as Jesus wants us to.



We can’t possibly pay attention to all the “stuff” that presents itself to us in the course of an ordinary day.  The thousands of things our eyes see, the thousands of sounds our ears are hearing; no way can we take notice of them all and remain sane.

So, either we make a chance sampling of it all according to the impulse of the moment or we deliberately select what we will attend to and disregard the rest.  When I open my morning newspaper, I’m aware that I cannot read all that it contains, but at the same time I often find myself getting into this or that article or captioned photo and then saying to myself, Why am I wasting time on this?

And that’s the way our entire life has to go, of course: an unending series of value judgments about what is worth our time and what is not.

This applies to our religion as well.  There is a solid core of belief and practice that defines our religion, but there’s also an awful lot of “stuff” that has been added and compounded over the centuries that may or may not merit our involvement or commitment.

Jesus reduced religion to two basic commandments: to love God with all our heart and to love others as we love ourselves.  He said that all other laws are rooted in those two.  Sounds great to me – I mean, to be guided by such succinct law that leaves us free to make our decisions based on what our conscience tells us to do or to avoid.  However, for many people it’s an unacceptable risk; they feel much safer in obeying scrupulously all the particulars of the law.  For such people, it’s a lot easier to be told what to do and then to obey it to the letter as if they were obeying God.

In very dramatic, hyperbolic terms in today’s gospel passage, Jesus speaks of the end time, the final days of the world’s existence.  This bible passage, above all, must not be interpreted literally.  Jesus had no idea of how the world would end.  He was a man of his times, limited in his capacity to understand scientific phenomena, and ignorant of those that would not be discovered until centuries after his time on this earth.

As I have mentioned before in other homiletic connections, I think that what Jesus was doing was creating an ornate frame in which to display an important picture, namely, that God, the Creative Spirit that he called Father, was permanently and completely embedded in the world, infinitely greater and more powerful than all the powers of nature put together.  That omnipotent God would ultimately conquer all the forces of evil and death, leaving nothing but love and happiness and peace to be enjoyed by all people for all time and eternity!

I regard this prophetic statement of Jesus as a challenge to his disciples – therefore, to you and me — about how wide or how narrow their vision of him would be.  Do we appreciate him for the depth of power and life he represents?  Do we take seriously his invitation to move closer to him, to invite him into the problems and prospects of our life?  Are we actively connecting with the God whose presence to us he was always emphasizing?

Are we ready and willing to forsake the methods we were given in our childhood as ways to meet God and instead accept God as found in the mind and heart of Jesus?