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Why I Love Jesus and His Religion

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Jan. 23, 2012

by: Father Jim Chern
Montclair State University

I’ve lost track of how many people have sent me an email or facebook msg or asked if I’ve seen the You Tube Video titled “Why I hate religion but I love Jesus.” It was made by a young man named Jefferson Bethke.  About a week and a half ago when I first watched it, about 3 million people had done so as well.  To see how its gone “viral” with it appearing on facebook walls, twitter tweets - As of Thursday night over 15 million people had seen it – that tells you not only the power of the internet and social media, but that obviously the young man has sparked a lot of people’s interest and what he says in the video resonates for some.

In the 3-4 minutes that the video runs, with some clever editing, you hear Jefferson’s rap about his take on the difference between Jesus and religion. And it’s obvious from the tone that he’s indicting most of us Christians of falling into the category he claims is “false religion.” Jefferson argues that: In the scriptures Jesus received the most opposition from the most religious people of his day.  At it’s core Jesus’ gospel and the good news of the Cross is in pure opposition to self-righteousness/self-justification. Religion is man centered, Jesus is God-centered. This poem highlights my journey to discover this truth. Religion either ends in pride or despair. Pride because you make a list and can do it and act better than everyone, or despair because you can’t do your own list of rules and feel “not good enough” for God. With Jesus though you have humble confident joy because He represents you, you don’t represent yourself and His sacrifice is perfect putting us in perfect standing with God!

Reading that and seeing the video, there are things I could agree with. Are there hypocrites in the Church? Well I know I’ve been guilty of hypocrisy so there’s one… Can we be lazy about living our faith? Again, I know I’ve confessed that as well, so sadly I validate another claim of his. And that some fall into pride or despair through the words and deeds of people who claim to be “religious”- I’ve met more than a few that definitely have suffered from those conditions.

And statistically we know that combining all the different denominations, Christianity remains the overwhelming majority religion in the United States, yet for weeks we’ve witnessed that one football player - Tim Tebow makes headlines for being one of the very few who publicly gives thanks and praise to God for the gifts and blessings in His life – that’s how rare it is. And there’s plenty of other examples that you can point to debating “how Christian really is this place we call home?” So Jefferson has a point that religious Christians aren’t doing a great job in witnessing to their faith in the world.

But he’s missing the boat on a whole lot of things as he dismisses “religion” in his love for Christ.  And what’s severely troubling is how many will simply buy into this “truth” because of clever rhymes and editing.

Discovering the truth takes more than just clicking a video and being swept along with the popularity it has received. We believe that “The truth” is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ. And in the Gospel we just heard, we see how this person begins forming a religion.   Calling these first men to leave their nets, their jobs; leave their homes and families and make a radical decision to follow Him.

Will these men perfectly follow Christ? Not by a long shot.  Would there be hypocrisy and self-righteousness among them as they journeyed along with Christ?  Absolutely.  James and John would be jockeying to see who Jesus liked best.   Simon Peter would betray him.  And the list of failures (sadly) goes on… Yet Jesus calls these imperfect men to be his first apostles. And he would go further and call Peter the “rock” on which he would build His Church. He prepared them for when he would Ascend to His Father telling the 12 to gather together in His name, eating and drinking the gift of Himself in His Body and Blood under the appearances of Bread and Wine. Empowering them with His Spirit to offer forgiveness – a gift he knew all of them, and all of us –  would need over and over again throughout our lives.  He would commission them to go out and spread this Good News that God has come to us and remains among us. That he remains very much present in the “Church” promising that where “two or more gather in my Name, there I am in their midst.”  Commanding us at the Last Supper to come together in this way, to eat His Flesh and Drink His Blood “in remembrance of me.”

The sad thing for me watching this video and seeing the comments of many who have “liked” it is that in “throwing the baby out with the bath water” they miss a stunning reality: that the only way people have come to know Jesus from generation to generation has been through religion— namely the Catholic Church.  Even though the history of the Church has more than its share of blemishes and low points, it’s in this religion being alive and in our humble submission to His call, that Jesus continues to be made known.  It’s in the Church that we meet Him who first loved us. It’s in the Church that the voice of Christ is calling out to us today just as Jesus did over 2,000 years ago to those first imperfect men who dropped their nets that day inviting us to believe “THIS IS THE TIME OF FULFILLMENT - THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AT HAND -  REPENT & BELIEVE IN THE GOSPEL.”    It’s in the Church that we find direction to love Christ in both word and deed.

To be honest, it’s easy for many of us to say we love someone or something without that word meaning a whole lot. For instance, we have McDonalds telling us “I’m loving it” about their Big Macs.  But I wouldn’t exactly lay down my life for McDonalds or the Big Mac…although I might be shortening it as I eat one!   But the tangible way we show our love for Jesus is by following, to the best of our ability, the example in today’s Gospel—the example of the men who heard Jesus’ words, inviting them to come after Him and followed Him.   By following in their footsteps, I leave the life I knew and I thought I loved in exchange for the life He is calling me to. And, in doing so, I realize I’ve come to Love both Him and the religion He founded.

—-> For a great video that was made in response to the original “Youtube” sensation, check out:

This article was written by Fr. Jim Chern @Montclair State University

Please leave him feedback on his story in the comments section below.