Thursday, August 8, 2019

t is often bewildering that many religious people fail to understand that religion is a dynamic concept with love, justice, equality, liberty and peaceful coexistence at its centre and any good religion that does not satisfy these standards is false and a fraud.

My attitude and relationship with religion changed, when I grasped and accepted these fundamental assumption and realised that God is not interested in religion, but in loving deeds. That is is not the ideas we hold in our minds as ‘the truth’ that matters but the deeds that love compels us to do.

When Jesus started his ministry, Judaism had deviated from these concepts and values.

It had become an exclusive religion, which sanctioned discrimination of non-Jews and exploited the poor and vulnerable.

Non Jews were called gentiles and excluded from some area of the temples, even though when the temple was built, it was said, it shall be a house of prayer for all people.

Judaism valued intellectual pontification of theology and soulless observations of the law at the expense of love, care, compassion and justice.

In many parables and encounters with the religious leaders and community, Jesus taught the essence of true religion as he rebuked and cursed the hypocrite Pharisees.

In the parable of the wheat and tare, Matthew 13: 24-30, Jesus taught about the equality of all, respect for individual choice, liberty, the evil of men taking it upon themselves to punish those they believe are breaking the law of God, sinners and the need to leave judgement and punishment of sins to God.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37, Jesus demonstrates that love for others and treating them the way we would like to be treated are more important than strict observance religious laws and conventions.

In the healing of the man who spent 38 years beside the pool of Bethesda, John 5:1-15, Jesus exposed the false teaching and conception of God taught by the Pharisees and Sadducees; that a good God would leave the sick and send an angel once a year to stir the water so that the fittest can survive. This is what the corrupt religious people taught the people to believe, which is why a very ill a man sat near a pool stirred once a year by an Angel for 38 wasted years.

I can go on and on to demonstrate that the teaching of Jesus is not about doctrines and observance, but about values to live by, which makes life worthwhile. It is about the grand plan of God that human beings should get better at reflecting His eternal characters as knowledge increases.

It has never been about hard-hearted observation of religious laws, traditions and conventions. It has never been about purity of doctrine and sanctimonious attitude. It has never been about power to perform miracles. It has never been about what people think about ideas they hold as the truth in their dark, ignorant and prejudiced minds.

The tragic history of religion is that it has often hijacked by dishonest and greedy men, who hide behind God to exploit the weak, ignorant and vulnerable.

Today, we are reading about the horrendous abuses committed against children and women by priests, Imams, Rabbais and pastors, many times, behind the altars. We read about the dishonesty, greed and immorality of many men God.

These are some of things that Jesus found very upsetting, which was why he pronounced woes to Scribes and Pharisees in Luke 11:37-54, and took the whip and chased away money changers from the synagogue.

It was for the reason that both John the Baptist and Jesus called the Pharisees brood of vipers Matthew 3 :7 .

When Jesus saw the helplessness of the exploited masses, He said to them “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30). He was saying to men to come to him with your fears, anxiety, worriers and guilt and I will give them rest by teaching you how to overcome them.

In Matthew 23:4 Jesus berated the Pharisees "They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. Dishonest men of God claim to heal cancers by prayer, only to travel abroad for the best treatment money can buy. They tell the people to deposit their tithe on earth for mansions in heave, while the use the tithe to build mansions on earth.

They feed the people with ignorant notion of God, which allows them to exploit them and nothing could be more evil. They tell them to sow seeds, while they harvest them.

The question is , what are the heavy burdens, which dishonest religious leaders lay upon others.

Heavy burden is when a church receives tithes and offerings freely from the people and then use it to build schools and hospitals, which the poor cannot afford.

Heavy burden is when church leaders use widow's mite to live lavish life style.

Heavy burden is, when church leaders run a church, which is registered as a charity as his private business and spend money given to a charity in the name of God as their own.

Heavy burden is when religious leaders deceive the people that miracles exist, when they know that miracle only occur, when men are persuaded out of love for their fellow men to use their knowledge and means for the good of others.

Heavy burden is when the so called men of God stage manage miracles and deceive the people that prayer makes difference, when men do nothing.

Heavy burden is when a church or ministry ignore the injunction of Jesus that ‘ freely you receive freely you must give, and receive freely, but charge for services it renders with the money.

Which church or ministry in Nigeria received freely and gives freely? Almost without exception, religious organisations in Nigeria are in the business of exploitation and deception and are motivated by greed. They receive freely and fail to give freely. They espouse knowledge frozen in time, with intention to exploit. They sell falsehood, ignorance and delusion to the people in the name of hope.

Instead of focusing on the essence of religion described by James, in James 1:27 “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world”. Many religious leaders have focused on doctrines and semantics that divide people, justify discrimination and injustice and poison the society.

As I learn more about the true meaning of the love of God, I fail to see it in what many religions teach, justify and fight about.

I cringe, when when religious leaders quote from holy book to justify greed, bigotry, discrimination and intolerance.

I fail to see God’s love when religious men driven by hate, find reason to throw stones at sinners and those who are different.

I imagine what Jesus wrote on the ground when he asked those who were about to stone the woman caught in adultery, ‘Let Him Who Is Without Sin Cast the First Stone’ John 8:7

As I strive with the right way to treat homosexuality, transgender and abortion, I can only conclude that the love of God must compel all to treat homosexuals transgenders and those who feel justified to commit abortion with love, sensitivity and understanding.

The same way Jesus treated sin and sinners. Not with rejection nor condemnation. Not with discrimination nor intolerance. Not by imposing the severest of punishment nor criminalising them to deter people, but with love and compassion, understanding and tolerance. I pray for the spirit that compelled Jesus to tell his disciples, “let both grow together until the harvest. Matthew 13:30

I am persuaded that the right way to deal with some of these issues, which divide opinions and set men against each other in the name of God and religion is by gaining a deeper understanding of the love of God and the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares in Matthew 13:24-30

24 “Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 26 But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. 27 So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn” “”

Hosea 4: 6 “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children”

I pray that knowledge, wisdom and understanding may guide as we allow love to to motivate and compel.