The Talmud (Makkot 10b) states that a person will be led on the path that he truly wants to travel on.
What path is this for you? How far along this path will you go? This depends on your enthusiasm and persistence. Right this moment be resolved to become even more enthusiastic about reaching your most important goals. (Or become more enthusiastic about formulating your goals.) Be resolved right now to persist along the path. Don’t just sit down in the middle of the road. Don’t get sidetracked and wander to the right or left. Persist. Keep going. Regardless of your speed, when you persist you will eventually get there.
(From Rabbi Pliskin’s “Happiness”,p.72)
-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from Daily Lift #297 “Take the Lead”
Continued from Part Three of this series.
I quoted Rabbi Pliskin above since the effort to choose and maintain a path is highly relevant to this discussion.
Today we’ll pick things up with “Chapter 9: Healing Broken Relationships: The Essence of True Worship”:
Do you realize that Jesus prioritized conflict resolution between the members of His family above and corporate worship experience?
-Pastor Chris Jackson, Chapter 9
Jackson is referring to the following:
Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.
-Matthew 5:23-24 (NASB)
Like a number of Christians I’ve encountered over the years, Jackson thinks of Christianity as “a relationship, not a religion.” However, he isn’t just focusing on our relationship with Jesus but our relationship with each other. Of his quoting Jesus and reconciliation, Jackson says:
…if we have anything that is out of order with a brother (on our part or his), we are to stop all the trappings of religion and pursue the healing and restoration of that relationship.
Christianity puts relationship and religious practice into two separate boxes while Judaism integrates faith, life, and practice as woven into the very being of the person of God. To many Christians, performing the mitzvot or the commandments is “religion”, and yet they don’t realize that from a Jewish point of view, every mitzvah contributes to a Jew’s relationship with his fellow Jew and with Hashem.
The Master wasn’t separating religion and relationship, he was illustrating that before bridging the gap between man and God by offering korban at the Temple, we should first eliminate any gaps we may have with our fellows:
One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
For the Master, loving God and loving our fellow were inexorably intertwined. One could not participate in one without being engaged in the other. When someone says they love God but hate another person, they are in a state of conflict, not harmony. In my understanding, there is no incompatibility between our religious practice and our relationships, or there shouldn’t be. A life lived in holiness will have healed relationships and mended pathways between God and man and man and his fellow.
Before we are mighty warriors being the standard of the King, we are humble worshiping servants. Before we are prophets and teachers and leaders, we are those who live to worship and adore our Savior.
None of those roles are inconsistent with a life of holiness, but I think we can occupy those roles simultaneously as well as being humble servants of other people.
Jackson goes on:
…it’s shockingly profound that Jesus prioritized the healing of offenses above our involvement in corporate worship.
The Gospel message is one of relationship.
I don’t know what’s shocking about it. Worship is all about our relationship with God and we don’t have much of a relationship with God if we’ve got broken connections with other people. As I’ve mentioned above and in relation to the two greatest commandments, you can’t separate one from the other.
I also have to say “yes and no” about Jackson’s interpretation of the Gospel message, which is really about the good news of God reconciling and restoring all of national Israel and the Jewish people to Him and placing them at the head of all the nations in the Messianic Era. However, I understand that typically the Church interprets the Gospel message within the desirable but narrow confines of “mere” individual personal salvation. Not that salvation is a bad thing, but the Gospels speak of so much more than traditional Christian doctrine teaches.
The phrase “be reconciled” is profound in that it means to mend a breach from a quarrel.
I’m not trying to pin the fault on the other party — I was the one who initially blew it — but when ten people heard of my failure before I had been given the change to make it right, we were suddenly in a quarrel with plenty of error on both sides.
This is Jackson’s explanation of him having “dropped the ball” in some obligation, yes it was his fault. But then the injured party, instead of going to Jackson to settle the matter, started talking about it with other people at church. So they both dropped the ball and a bad situation got worse. Just because the other guy slipped up doesn’t give you or me license to start wagging our tongues about it rather than going to the person with whom we really need to resolve things.
There are three end of chapter questions:
- Are there any areas of misplaced worship in your life?
- Are there any broken relationships that need to take precedence over your involvement in corporate worship services?
- Are you willing to worship — in the truest sense of the word — and heal these relationships? If so, you’ll invite the pleasure of heaven.
The third question comes closest to describing my understanding of a life of holiness; the joining of our relationships with people and our relationship with Heaven.
My mussar study for this week is on moderation, which is what I think the first two questions hint at.
In the lesson The Goldilocks Principle, Rabbetzin Malkah writes:
But what happens when we study too much? We become hardened to prayer and deeds, because we mistakenly think that knowledge becomes complete worship. What about when we study too little? Our ability to comprehend greater knowledge wanes as we start become deficient in connecting with our Creator through prayer, and we start to lose sight of why deeds are important.
How can too much prayer be a downfall? One might think such a thing can’t possibly exist. But truly, if you become so obsessed with prayer, you will lose sight of the need to learn and train your mind, and the need to get on the ground and serve Hashem in a physical way in the world. Too little prayer and soul work? There is no doubt that the answer to that is quite easy: your desire to learn will nearly disappear, as your mind won’t be interested in learning the ways of Hashem and your feet won’t have the desire to walk in His footsteps.
In spite of what I said above about how Judaism, at least ideally, wholly integrates worship and community, it is possible to get out of balance and to emphasize one aspect of your life to the detriment of others. The importance of Torah study in Judaism could possibly lead a person to ignore family and social priorities. Of course, Torah study should direct a person on how to care for family and community, but people can be short-sighted at times. Also true, a person could emphasize prayer and study over deeds of kindness, charity, and compassion.
I think the problem Pastor Jackson is trying to explain isn’t that relationship is better or more important than study, prayer, or worship services, but that all of the different areas in a life of holiness have to be in balance and moderation. Christian thought is based on Greek philosophy, the idea that something must be either or, as in either religion or relationship. In contrast, Jewish thought is not so much linear as global, taking multiple and seemingly contradictory elements and holding them together in dynamic tension.
That’s probably why many Christians believe Judaism is a religion of “dead works” with no spirituality and graciousness; because they can’t see Torah and the mitzvot from a global thought perspective.
For me and the particular path upon which I am traveling, a life of relationship doesn’t necessarily create a life of holiness nor a connection with God. That is, while having like-minded people to fellowship with is desirable, it’s probably more important in the service of God for me to serve people than it is to go to church every Sunday. I can serve in a wide variety of contexts, not just within a religious venue. I think that would meet Pastor Jackson’s requirement for healing before praying, since from God’s point of view, they are the same.