The Measure Of Faith
Thoughts on the First Readings
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Kings 5;14-17

Physicians sometimes use medicines in ways their developers didn’t intend or foresee. A doctor may prescribe a drug intended to alleviate flu misery to mollify the effects of acne. Whether or not the drug’s producers approve of her decision, they can’t stop her from pursuing such a therapy. Neither can the FDA. It’s within the purview of the doctor to treat her patient as she deems best. It’s also her responsibility to benefit rather than harm her patient.

Religious faith is similar to medicine is some respects. No one can effectively control how we use our faith. If a person decides to bury a statue of St. Joseph upside down in the yard to ensure that his house sells, nobody can stop him. On a graver note, if a preacher teaches that God will bless with miraculous wealth those who send him money, no one can stop him. If a military leader tells his troops that God wills them to slaughter an entire village, no one can prove that God said no such thing?

What can we do about this Wild West aspect of religion? We could establish a commission with the power to decide and enforce their decisions about what God says. We could ignore the issue and pray that all those who claim bizarre things about God won’t draw a crowd. We could simply pay little attention to organized religion diminishing both its power and its danger.

Most ecclesiastical authorities attempt the first option setting up boards of orthodoxy with, at best, moderate success within their own groups and none beyond them. The majority of lay people choose options two or three. We accept a greatly straitened religion as the cost of defending ourselves against its abuses. Is there anything we can do beyond sitting back, watching and minding our own religious business? Yes. We can put aside our wariness of religious discussion and begin to really pay attention to what people think about life and God. We can make it our business to listen more than we speak and to speak thoughtfully and respectfully when we open give our opinions. We can stop assuming that we need an advanced degree before we can think deeply about belief and morality. Discussions about faith between laypeople need not be quick-draw shootouts. It hurts no one, least of all God, to begin a discussion with an honest I’m not sure about this; what do you think.

The touchstone for a religious opinion is: How will this idea strengthen me to treat others with more love and justice. Naaman became interested in Israel’s God not because Elisha presented him a brilliant theological argument but because Elisha helped him with his skin disease. When all is said and done, love not brilliance demonstrates the presence of God.