These vignettes of Jesus challenging the religious norms stand out with special meaning during this season of spiritual discipline. They give us pause to challenge how and why we do the things we do. Here we are in the guide of spiritual exercises, reading Jesus’ critique of spiritual exercises. When we read, pray, and fast, are we just checking boxes? Or are we seeking to enrich our relationship with God and realize his reign on earth? The issue is not whether or not spiritual and religious practices are themselves good. Just because Christianity is a relationship doesn’t mean we altogether throw out religion. The issue is whether or not our practices shape the life and love of Christ in us.
This returns to Ignatius' “principle and foundation.” All created things (even religious customs) are given by God to lead us into life with him. When challenged about fasting, Jesus roots the practice in a relationship with him. When challenged about the Sabbath, he reminds us that “the Sabbath was made for man” as a gift meant to help us enjoy the life of God, who himself rested on the seventh day. If our spirituality reinforces self-righteousness and actually prevents us from doing good and saving life, we are missing the point.
- Read Mark 2:18–3:6.
- Ask God that you would not be devoted to prayer itself, but devoted to him through prayer.
- Follow Jesus through the fields and into the synagogue. Feel the scrutinizing eyes of the Pharisees and watch how Jesus behaves under their skeptical gaze.
- Reflect on Jesus’ freedom, as well as his focus on what truly matters. Get in the minds of the Pharisees and other Jews who are disconcerted by Jesus’ actions. What assumptions is he challenging and why does it outrage them?
- Talk with Jesus about your reading and prayer, about why you are doing it. You might need to refocus and remember that this is all about encountering Jesus. Resolve to approach your devotion as if you are simply spending time with the most important person in your life.
About the Author
Nick Chambers is the Director of Spiritual Formation at Calvary UMC