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The End of Religion

The Jesus of the Bible is far more attractive, exciting, and scandalous than the meek and mild Jesus we encounter through religion.


If you have, for whatever reason, become "turned off" to religion or Christianity, this book is for you. It offers a look at Christianity from a perspective you might not have considered. If you are a Christian, pass the book along to a friend who is investigating Christianity, or use it as a resource to reach out and initiate dialogue about the Christian faith. This is an excerpt from, The End of Religion by Bruxy Cavey.

Act just once in such a manner that your action expresses that you fear God alone and man not at all—you will immediately in some measure cause a scandal (Soren Kierkegaard).

I remember the season of my life when I began to realize that the Jesus described in the Bible was far more attractive, exciting, and scandalous than the meek and mild Jesus many churches proclaimed. I was young and beginning to study the Bible for myself and, in the process, realized that I held a volatile document in my hands—one that had the potential to destroy all religion, to explode it from the inside out.

The End of Religion

I recall reading the story of my favourite miracle—the one where Jesus turned water into wine (I know, it's your favourite too). I was thinking about how Jesus used His powers, not only to heal, but also to encourage the celebration of life. However, as I read more closely, I noticed something that initially puzzled me and eventually forced me to begin rethinking religion, spirituality, and what Jesus was all about.

I felt like I had walked onto the set of The Da Vinci Code. Like the characters who stare at Leonardo's painting of The Last Supper to find clues to an ancient mystery, I was staring into a written passage of the Gospel of John to find the meaning of something I had never noticed before. What I eventually saw was just a brief phrase revealing a small detail of the story, but it became a keyhole through which to peer into a larger reality.

I won't spoil the fun for you. Take some time now to see if you notice the same thing in this story. Look beyond the wine to see the scandal.

1)Three days later Mary, the mother of Jesus, was at a wedding feast in the village of Cana in Galilee. 2)Jesus and His disciples had also been invited and were there. 3)When the wine was all gone, Mary said to Jesus, "They don't have any more wine."
4)Jesus replied, "Mother, my time hasn't yet come! You must not tell me what to do."
5)Mary then said to the servants, "Do whatever Jesus tells you to do."
6)At the feast there were six stone water jars that were used by the people for washing themselves in the way that their religion said they must. Each jar held about 20 to 30 gallons. 7)Jesus told the servants to fill them to the top with water. Then after the jars had been filled, 8)He said, "Now take some water and give it to the man in charge of the feast."
The servants did as Jesus told them, 9)and the man in charge drank some of the water that had now turned into wine. He did not know where the wine had come from, but the servants did. He called the bridegroom over 10)and said, "The best wine is always served first. Then after the guests have had plenty, the other wine is served. But you have kept the best until last!"
11)This was Jesus' first miracle, and He did it in the village of Cana in Galilee. There Jesus showed His glory, and His disciples put their faith in Him (John 21-11, CEV).

How is that for a wedding gift—six huge jars full of the best wine going! John records that these stone water jars could each hold between 20-30 gallons. This makes for a grand total of between 120-180 gallons of wine, which would fill over 2,000 four-ounce glasses. Now that's a lot of party fuel! It's a nice way to enter the miracle niche market, don't you think? But this is just the beginning.

The New Testament (that part of the Bible written after the coming of Jesus) was written in Greek. I learned that in the original text, the word translated "miracle" in verse 11 is really the word "sign"—a pointer toward the true nature of Jesus' message and mission. This miracle was not just about providing refreshment for thirsty guests. There is more going on here.

When I looked for clues of the miracle's deeper meaning, I noticed something that would forever alter the way I think about Jesus. Take another look at verse six. John tells us that Jesus did not have the wine served out of ordinary wine jars. He directed the servants to use the sacred containers set aside for a religious ritual. When I investigated further, I found that one of the traditions of some religious groups of that day (especially those of an influential group called the Pharisees) was regular ritual hand cleansing. They would dip their hands in sacred water as a way of symbolizing a desire to remain pure from the sin of the world.

… through his first miracle Jesus intentionally desecrates a religious icon!

But why would Jesus use these sacred stone jars for the water-turned wine? There were undoubtedly other containers available that could have held the joy-juice. If they had just run out of wine at this party, there would have obviously been plenty of "empties" around to hold the miracle liquid. Wine jars, wine jugs, wine bottles, wine kegs, wine skins—whatever they had been using was sitting right there, empty, waiting to be filled. So why the stone jars? Why the sacred icons of religious tradition? Why intentionally do something so potentially offensive?

I was faced with an unexpected but undeniable fact: through his first miracle Jesus intentionally desecrates a religious icon! He purposely chooses these sacred jars to challenge the religious system by converting them from icons of personal purification into symbols of relational celebration! Jesus takes us from holy water to wedding wine. From legalism to life. From religion to relationship.

I knew I had to let go of my religious assumptions and let the Jesus of Scripture be who He really was and not who 2,000 years of Church history said He should be. So began my intentional search for a three-dimensional Jesus, beyond the stained glass windows of the religion that bears His name.

I now know that this story is simply the tip of an irreligious iceberg … . But before we see how Jesus opposed the religion of His day, let's consider why someone might think religion is worth ending.

The End of Religion: An Introduction to the Subversive Spirituality of Jesus. Bruxy Cavey. Published by Agora Imprints. ISBN: 097388439-4 It is available through Gospelcom.net Resource Centre.

Bruxy Cavey is the Teaching Pastor of The Meeting House, Oakville, Ontario—a community of congregations in the Greater Toronto Area who share the same teaching and vision, with more than 2,000 people attending weekly.

Originally published in The Meeting House Times, Fall 2005.

 

 
 
 
 

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