Father Booth’s Weekly Reflection

Put on the Lord

Like all aberrations of the faith, the health and wealth gospel endangers those who place their hopes in such a falsification of the one true Gospel. In fact, if one has such confidence that faith is rewarded with good health and superior wealth, then what does that mean to the woman who is diagnosed with cancer at an earlier age than normal or for a man whose business fails because he was defrauded by a business partner or because the government chose to regulate his industry out of existence? Is the cancer or the business failure caused by a lack of faith? Is it because Jesus does not keep His promises? If the woman got cancer later in life, or if the man’s business is very successful at first but later languishes, does that mean that their faith has diminished? We all eventually die, but is death a sign of a lack of faith when one believes in the health and wealth gospel? Such false beliefs are ultimately corrosive to faith and puts souls in dire jeopardy.

How do people get to the point of putting their hopes in a false or impoverished or even an imitation gospel? It is because we want things our way, it is because we want to make short cuts, it is because we want to be liked and accepted, it is because we don’t want to offend, it is because we live in a faithless and depraved culture, and it is because pastors have failed to push back against the various forces at odds with the Gospel. For example, if we took a Christian of whatever denomination and brought him 100 years into the future to what is being practiced and preached today, would he recognize the faith? Chances are, the answer is a resounding No. Yes, he would likely appreciate padded pews and air conditioning, but what is he to think of the ugly churches we have built, the rock-n-roll bands that have supplanted a well versed choir accompanied by an organ, what passes for Sunday best clothes, and the increasingly empty pews? He would probably conclude that the milquetoast and mediocre homily or sermon has much to do with the ugly churches, empty pews, etc.

Would he be correct? Yes and no. All of the unfortunate differences he would note are symptoms of a deeper problem. Yes, the preaching from the pulpit is a definite factor, but the priest or pastor got to the point of preaching poorly because he has become estranged from the Word of God. Likewise, the people in the pew have also become less well versed in the verses of Scripture. The cleric gets there partially in the modern seminary where his professors of the Old and New Testaments don’t seem to have faith. One of my professors, a priest, quipped that ‘all of the things in the Bible are true and some of them actually happened.’ Really? Really, really? Most academic scholars of the Bible treat the Word of God as a mere literary work, a work of ancient human writers. It is little wonder that a joke has circulated among seminarians for decades: What is the difference between a mafioso and a Scripture scholar? The mafioso believes in God. Ouch!

Saint Jerome, who translated the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible into Latin in AD 382, observed that ‘Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.’ Ignorance of Christ implies an ignorance of His Gospel, and where there is a vacuum, invariably something comes along to fill the void. This is how we ended up with the vengeful God of fundamentalism and the hippy dippy Jesus of the 1970s. This is why some portray Jesus as effeminate, or as an environmentalist, or as a political revolutionary, or as a feminist, or as a communist, or as a social worker, and so on. They project themselves or their desires on Jesus when we are called to become like He is. We are called to “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh” (Rom 13:14). Putting on Christ is not easy.

Jesus never said it would be. It all boils down to embracing the truth. I am a sinner, you are a sinner, and we all need a Savior. Not one of our choosing, not one that conforms to our self-image, politics, fears and aspirations, but One that has chosen us. “And do this because you know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy” (Rom 13:11-13).

—Fr Booth