Church and religion can often get in the way of our faith – they can come between us and God. Churches are made up of human beings. We are imperfect. Sometimes we get too focused on what we think is right or wrong and we lose sight of what is. We can be hard on ourselves and even more critical of others. Biblical rules are guides to make it easier to love and honor God. But when we lose sight of the “why” of the rules and focus solely on their letter, we’re missing the point.
Unfortunately, the church and religion have a long history of getting it wrong, both before Jesus was born and after he left this world. Part of what Jesus did while here was explain and demonstrate how we were misinterpreting and misapplying what God wants. God simply wants a relationship with us. God wants our love just as it is given to us. And God wants us to love each other. We forget those two simple things and instead choose to focus on random, irrelevant, or insignificant “rules.” And, of course, we’ve made some up to suit our needs, desires, and lifestyles.
When we are doing something which does not honor God-given principles, we’re not doing what we should be doing. When we are judging others by any standard, we are not doing what we should be doing.
Many of us feel distanced from God because a church or a religion has passed judgment on us. That’s not their place. Our relationship with Jesus allows us to have a relationship with God regardless of what we’ve done, not done, or thought. It’s that simple. Yet we sometimes allow the judgment of others of us to come between us and our relationship with Jesus and thus our relationship with God. We feel as though we don’t measure up therefore, we can’t have a relationship with God. That is simply not the case. Our faith is all that matters.
Our Bible passages today give us two great examples -- polar extremes of religious compliance and piousness, as judged by the standards of their community and culture. Yet they did not allow their religion, as defined by them or others, to stand in the way of their connection with Jesus. And both benefited as a result -- practically and spiritually. There is a lesson here for how we view and think of ourselves and our ability to connect with God and how we view others.