“The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.”
When the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages read the Scripture, nothing could have been more clear than that the Earth was the center of the solar system. Everything revolved around the earth. That is how the sun could rise and set or how Jesus could be taken up into the sky following his resurrection. When Galileo looked into the heavens with his telescope and discovered phenomena that was best explained as the sun being the center of the solar system instead of the earth, his conclusions could only be condemned as heretical.
Galileo challenged the church’s understanding of earth’s place in the universe. In a similar way, Jesus challenged people’s understanding of the fundamental center of discipleship. When some people pointed out that Jesus’ disciples did not do basic disciple things such as fasting with prayer (Luke 5:33), Jesus answered not by rejecting the practices, but by orienting them to himself. Like moving the sun to the center of how we understand the solar system, Jesus put himself in the center of how we are to understand living out faith.
The reason the disciples of Jesus did not fast with prayer at that time was because Jesus was with them. The reason they would fast later was because Jesus would be away from them. These core religious expressions only had meaning when they were oriented around Jesus. But it is not just fasting with prayer that finds its positioning and meaning in relationship to Jesus, but all religious expression. Jesus answered the observation concerning fasting, but offered more. He went on to explain that any other way of doing things could never be added or mixed with the Jesus way of doing things. He taught this through the following images:
1) If a person has a hole in an old shirt, he cannot rip a piece of cloth from a new shirt to fix it. This will ruin the new shirt (it will now have a hole in it) as well as the old shirt since it will not match the new patch.
2) If a person adds new wine to old wineskins, they will burst because they are brittle and cannot handle the expansion that happens during the fermentation process.
The point is this: when you add the new to the old, it ruins both. The same is true of Jesus. One cannot add the old practices OR any other practices to Jesus without hurting both. Essentially, Jesus says that he and he alone defines all religious practice without any addition from anything else.
In other words, the very the nature of being a Christian is defined through relationship to Jesus. Our faith is not determined by particular practices, but by a person. It is not established by a list of rules, but by a relationship. Practices and rules play a part in following Jesus, but
they do not define our faith without their connection to Christ.
We are called to love, but not generically. Rather, we are called to love as Christ loved. We are called to be humble, but not generically. Rather, we are called to be humble as Christ was humble. We are called to forgive, but not generically. Rather, we are called to forgive as Christ forgave.
When Christ told Peter to forgive seven times seventy times, this was not a generic rule, but a description of the kind of forgiveness Christ would exercise. He would say on the cross: “Father forgive them,” (Luke 23:34). After Peter argued with Jesus, lied to Jesus and then denied even knowing Jesus, it was Jesus who sought Peter in order to reconcile. When Paul writes: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32), he means it. Do not just forgive, but do it as Christ did it. Jesus defines how we live and how we practice faith.
Until Christ is the center of all we do, our faith is not centered rightly. We are called to know Christ that we might live like Christ. We cannot do Christianity without knowing Christ because he is the center of every belief, practice and act of obedience.
No matter a person’s religious upbringing or denomination, the Christian faith revolves around Christ. That Christ is the ultimate center of all we do as Christians and all we are as Christians is as true and irrefutable as the sun being the center of the solar system. All of us are invited to revolve all we are around Christ that we might know all God has for us in Christ.