The Crutch and The Healer
Based on Jeremiah 31, 31-34
(5th Sunday of Lent, cycle B)
There is a recurring phenomenon among believers, which seems to particularly plague Christians. It is the need for some authority to justify their beliefs or actions and, sometimes, even their existence. Remember how Catholics used to go to the priest for the answer to everything? Today we might characterize that as the "Guru Syndrome". Not restricted to Catholics, we saw it climax tragically in the Jonestown massacre of 1978. On a less dramatic level it continues today in the world of televangelists. What has always puzzled me is the "why". I remember reading about a man who broke his leg. So he went to a crutch maker and bought himself a crutch to lean on. Time passed. The man did not know his leg had healed and so he kept using the crutch for something to lean on. One day, a healer came to the village where the man lived and told the man to trust him, give up his crutch and walk. The man threw down his crutch and walked. Now, he leans on the healer.
How different is that man from you and me? How often does your faith and mine depend upon the entertaining or charismatic preaching of another? But what if our preacher, like so many others, misinterprets the Word of God?
Running through the preaching of many televangelists is a theme of retribution. Frequently we hear them attempt to justify revenge, capital punishment and even war. During the recent war in the Persian Gulf (the first war) they relinquished moral leadership to President Bush and raised no voice in opposition as he betrayed the teaching of St. Augustine and claimed moral legitimacy for his own ends. What is most distressing is the misuse of the Scriptures to secure one's own position. Finally, the day the bombing began, Billy Graham joined President Bush in the White House and asked God's blessings on our carnage.
Some people might think this is in keeping with the God of the Old Testament. Jeremiah would disagree. In the language of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, everything exists because God remembers. If God forgets anything, it no longer exists. It doesn't even have a history. That is the power of today's reading. God no longer remembers our sins. They have no history. We begin anew.
Implicit in this new life is the call to live like God. From deep within us we know him and can choose to take life away from what is evil and give life only to what is good. In this vision of God there is no room for retribution--for getting even. Perhaps we do not trust enough. Perhaps we are filled with fear.
Today Jeremiah assures us that the Lord is within us. He has written his law upon our hearts and given us to breathe of his spirit. We need no crutches--or persons--to lean on, for we know the Lord.