Years ago I worked a job I hated. I hadn’t started out hating it. I actually believed in the mission (and still do!) and looked forward to contributing what I could, especially if it would help others. But as the years went on, it was clear that the organization didn’t care about me. I was working very long days, I hadn’t had even a cost of living raise since I started, and I somehow kept getting more work to do.
I had a point of clarity when my supervisor asked me to meet with her because she was frustrated about some expectation of hers that I hadn’t met. We talked for an hour, over the course of which she laid out all the things she wanted me to do in the future, things that would meet her expectations. About two-thirds through the meeting I became so overwhelmed I thought I might have a panic attack. When I left, I realized, “This is stupid. If I’m having a panic attack talking to my boss, I have the wrong boss and the wrong job.”
Before that moment, I don’t think it had occurred to me that I could just quit. I had been working so hard for so long I had never stopped to ask myself why. I was no longer working because I believed in the mission of the organization; I was working in order to keep the organization going.
The structure of something can never be more important than the thing itself.
I think Jesus wanted the crowds and disciples to have the same moment of clarity that I had. Why are you doing all these things? Why do you follow all these religious laws? Who do you serve? Who do you worship? Who told you that you had to keep doing this?
“Laws are made by people, and people can be wrong,” Peter, Paul and Mary sing in their justice-provoking song. Sometimes we let ourselves believe that religious laws and customs are above reproach because they are designed to honor God. But sometimes our religious traditions do more to support the edifice of tradition, and the desires of those who create and enforce the rules than they do to honor God.
Moments of crisis have historically been times of theological innovation. We are living in a historic moment where the questions “who do we serve?” and “who benefits by our service?” are more relevant than ever. This is actually a creative opportunity to articulate what is important and why we do the things we do and which are most crucial to our identity as children of God.