My late friend, Paul, was a Wizard of Oz fanatic. More than that, he was a Judy Garland fanatic. And imagine, he always insisted that he wasn’t gay. Go figure. I miss you, Paul. Anyway, Paul was enamored with Judy Garland and the Wizard of Oz so naturally, one of his favorite songs was “Over the Rainbow”. However much he loved that song, though, he could not accept any version other than the movie version. One sure way to get him going—and I did this as often as I could—was to play an alternate performance of this song. Judy’s was the only acceptable rendition.
People are funny that way. Sometimes I read that Hollywood is doing a remake of some wonderful film, such as “Life with Father”, and I wonder why. Why would anyone think they could improve on the original? And yet there are those who prefer to the new film to the old one. To each his own, I guess.
People are often the same way about religion. It’s not enough for some folks to have found their way onto a spiritual path towards the divine, they want other people to join them on the path. And it’s not enough that other people might find their own spiritual path. Some people will just insist on trying to force others to walk the same path they are walking.
Consider the Puritans. They left England and came to America because the government insisted they belong to the Church of England and worship in the prescribed manner. They didn’t want to, so they came here. They came here for religious freedom. But no sooner had they arrived here than they created laws forcing everybody in their colony to worship in the same way. It has been the same way with many religions throughout history.
Christians seem to want everybody to be Christian. Muslims want everybody to convert to Islam. Sometimes these people do this at the point of a sword. And it seems to me that you would have to wonder just how converted a person is when he or she agree to change religions under a threat of death. But I guess as long as you say the right words, that’s all that matters. Look at the inquisition. Those were fun times, I bet.
Jesus gave his followers a model for how to go out and spread his teachings. If we are to accept the gospel account, just after being rejected by his own neighbors, Jesus calls together his twelve pals out of the crowd of his followers and gives them a mission. They are to go out into the countryside in groups of two, two being the legal requirement for adequate witness. Having company also probably made the task a little easier. Here’s what Mark says:
“Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two
and gave them authority over unclean spirits.
He instructed them to take nothing for the journey
but a walking stick—
no food, no sack, no money in their belts.
They were, however, to wear sandals
but not a second tunic.
He said to them,
"Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,
leave there and shake the dust off your feet
in testimony against them."
So they went off and preached repentance.
The Twelve drove out many demons,
and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” (Mark, Chapter 6, 7-13)
You may wonder about that term “unclean spirits”. It doesn’t mean demons or evil spirits. In Jewish tradition an unclean spirit would be a ghost. The dead are unclean by Jewish law. Anyone who touches a dead body is considered unclean and must go through a ritual or two in order to be cleansed. So an unclean spirit would be the spirit of a dead person. So there you have it, biblical proof of ghosts. I’m sure all the paranormal investigators will be happy.
The reason for the other restrictions, not taking food, not taking money, no second tunic, was to differentiate his disciples from the other itinerate philosophers going about teaching. The followers of Socrates also went about teaching, and they used to wear two tunics and carry a begging bag. Jesus didn’t want his followers mistaken for these guys. Moreover, he didn’t want them sponging off the people they met. The Socratic followers would come to a village and hang out in each house until they had worn out their welcome, thereby making their living by freeloading off the hard-working people of the community—sort of like politicians.
But the disciples did not preach the gospel. There was no gospel. Not yet. According to the text, they preached repentance. Here, in the Greek, repentance does not mean being sorry for bad things you’ve done. It means to change your way of thinking, literally, to go in a different direction. So what they were doing was calling on people to turn to God. This was the same message that John the Baptist preached. They called on people to put their faith in God. The disciples were living this message by not bringing food or money along on the journey. They had to depend on God (through the generosity of others) for survival.
This is the model of the Christian mission. Go out, putting your own faith in God, and call on folks to put their faith in the divine creator. That’s it. There’s nothing about sex or abortion or drinking or dancing or drinking coffee or eating pork or any of that crap. The message is simple. Change your way of thinking. Turn to God. Put your faith in God. God will take care of you. Stop worrying. And the missionary asks for nothing in return. The missionary doesn’t beg, doesn’t demand donations, offers no “love gift” for your donation of ten dollars.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t say to go out and tell the people to believe in him or they’re all going to hell. Notice that he doesn’t tell his homies to go out and call on people to stop their sinning. He simply tells them to preach repentance. Tell the people to change their way of thinking. I suspect that if the church still preached this message, there would be a lot more Christians. Ghandi said he would be a Christian if he ever met anyone who practiced the religion. I do call myself a Christian, but I have met few people who practice what Jesus taught—myself included. But I try.
There is no one way to spiritual enlightenment any more than there is only one “Over the Rainbow”. There are as many ways to God as there are people. The path requires faith. It’s also a lot more fun if you have some company, so take a friend.