The Easter story is a lesson about victory and overcoming. There are those people who focus on the suffering, the death, the cross. Given that the ministry of Jesus Christ was about healing, liberation, and joy, that orientation seems a little odd. Maybe even disrespectful. Missing the point can be a dangerous thing. It can force us to learn our lessons the hard way.
The Pharisees aren’t portrayed as bad guys in the Gospels because of their lack of faith. On the contrary, they’re incredibly faithful. They’re also profoundly well-read. They are looking for the Messiah just as hard as they can, maybe harder than anybody else. These are all good things.
In the story, the Pharisees are slaves to their expectations, in love with their technique. So much so, in fact, that they couldn’t see Jesus for what He was. That’s how powerful and free we are, by the way. It took the simple, wild, humble John the Baptist to recognize the Christ.
John was ready to set technique aside, because he knew what was inside.
“As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matthew 3:11, NASB)
Water is great for cleaning the outside of something. Fire consumes it all. Maybe the goal here is to connect with something so profound, so deep, so True that we can release human expectations and let God be in charge.
John knew who he was. He carried that inner knowing into action. The Pharisees were very faithful with outer practices, and hoped that those actions would tell them who they were. That’s the difference. Both approaches work, up to a point. Only one will get you where you want to go.
Some people are reluctant to share (or even explore) their beliefs, because they don’t want to be tied down. I’ve noticed, however, that those people tend to be incredibly dogmatic about their outer practices. Have you encountered this? Have you ever met somebody who professes adherence to all faiths, who says that every religion says the same thing, but then tells you that they only feel spiritual after they’ve saged the room and cleared their energy fields with some tapping, and made sure they had the right crystals over the correct chakras?
It pays to accessorize. I’m sure the Pharisees had some cool gear, too.
There’s nothing wrong with ritual. But the outer observance has to come as a byproduct of an inner connection. Ritual has to come from identity. It can’t give you one.
Sometimes I wish spirituality could be purchased. It seems easier, and the alternative, working out our own unfoldment, feels like, well, work.
But there’s a difference between work and toil. Every story, from the Gospels to the Grinch, reminds us that life is lived from inside-out. Doing it that way may require some unlearning. It may mean taking out the garbage. But things get better.
If we try to force our spiritual growth from the outside, the road never ends. It’s a continual struggle, an unending stream of the Next Big Thing. And that, my friends, is exhausting.
There’s something pure in you. Something primal, wild, untouched by ego and materiality. That’s the part of you that recognizes the Christ. Letting that inner John the Baptist take charge means getting in touch with what you believe in. It means letting go of any particular expression of those beliefs. It means letting letting your faith dictate what needs to be done, instead of trying to have your actions determine your faith.
Are you willing to do things differently? When He tells you to cast your nets on the other side, and He will, how will you respond?