Being Christian Is About Love, Not Laws

Jesus didn't come to construct a litany of offenses that fundamentalists can cite. He came merely to be with us.

The message of the Gospels seems to me to be constantly returning to this theme: those who set themselves up as arbiters of moral correctness, the men of the book, the Pharisees, are often the farthest from God. Rules can only go so far; love does the rest. And the rest is by far the most important part. Jesus of Nazareth constantly tells his fellow human beings to let go of law and let love happen: to let go of the pursuit of certainty, to let go of possessions, to let go of pride, to let go of reputation and ambition, to let go also of obsessing about laws and doctrines. This letting go is what the fundamentalist fears the most. To him, it implies chaos, disorder, anarchy. To Jesus, it is the beginning of wisdom, and the prerequisite of love.

My favorite of all the stories told about Jesus is one of the simplest.

At one point in my life, when I was diagnosed with what was then a fatal disease, HIV, when one of my closest friends was suddenly admitted to the hospital with AIDS, and when my mother was also hospitalized with depression, I felt something inside me simply beg for God's help. I wanted to know why all these things had befallen me and those I loved all at once. I wanted an answer. I wanted something to hold on to, something to anchor me, to return to me the spiritual and physical equilibrium I had suddenly lost. I found myself drawn to the Gospels, and all I can say is that the old story I had long loved spoke to me more powerfully than ever.

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The story is of Jesus' surprise visit with two friends, Martha and Mary. When Jesus arrives, Martha immediately does what she should: she prepares food. The meal is in the future and her job is to get there.

Mary, in contrast, simply "sat down at the Lord's feet and listened to him speaking." Martha gets progressively more irritated with Mary's indolence and finally bursts out: "Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself ? Please tell her to help me."

Jesus answers: "Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken away from her."

An endorsement of idleness? Of irresponsibility? Of selfishness? In a way, Mary is guilty of all these moral failings. By the book, she's wrong. But in that very moment, she is not merely right. She is, in Jesus' formulation, doing the only thing that is right. And she is doing nothing. She is merely being with Jesus.

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