How can the Gospel affect the whole of our lives?
By Ana Mullan
(From the April - June 2019 issue of VOX)
We haven’t got a television and we don’t miss it! I do have an iPad that allows me to watch certain things of interest. I love cooking and a programme that I enjoyed watching in the past was Chef’s Table. One of the episodes that struck me was of a Korean Buddhist nun, not because of her food, which I am sure was nice, but because of how she viewed her cooking. Her belief in Buddhism shapes everything that she does. Of course, she has lived in a temple since she was young and the environment certainly helps. I can’t say that is the same for all Buddhists.
In Christianity, we have monks and nuns living under certain rules as well. But the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that Jesus’ invitation to me and anybody who wants to follow Him, is an invitation to an integrated life, a life that is shaped by the Gospel and the reality of God’s kingdom even when we don’t live in convents or monasteries.
For some reason, I ended up thinking about the book of Leviticus. It’s a book that most people who have tried to read the Bible find challenging, and very quickly give up. It is full of rules and regulations from cooking to how to treat others.
I started to wonder what its significance is for today, since hardly anybody would be following it (unless one is an Orthodox Jew). It is a book that was written for a certain type of people, the Israelites, who had just come out of slavery. They had lived for centuries under somebody else’s rules but now that they were free, they needed guidelines. The purpose was so that they would live a good life, to model for others the difference that it made to have Yahweh as their God. A distinctive people not shaped by the cultures around them.
So, what has this to do with me, a XXI century Jesus follower?
For many years I defined my Christian life by the things that I didn’t do: no smoking, no drinking, no dancing, no sleeping around. I lived under what Dallas Willard used to call the gospel of sin management.
However, there was no awareness on how to integrate the Gospel with the things that I was doing every day; things that were good and were not on the forbidden list.
Now, as an older Christian, I realise that Jesus’ invitation is to something bigger and higher and much more full of joy. There is one thing though, it demands discernment all the time, listening and working with Him.
If somebody gives me a list of things I cannot do, that puts me in charge. I am in control of my life. I can tick the box. I might not be doing certain things but it doesn’t mean that the ones I am doing are done for God’s sake. It also leads to a sense of religious pride. I can feel superior to others. I can become a bit of a Pharisee.
These days, many of the regulations in Leviticus don’t apply to us, though there are some that are still relevant. But there are many other things (that are not in Leviticus because they didn’t exist) that are trying all the time to shape us and to make us like the rest of the people around us.
As followers of Jesus we are invited, like the Israelites were, to live a life that is both distinctive and integrated; lives that are shaped by God’s kingdom and His power. You might be wondering what that life looks like. Well, I believe it is a life that acknowledges that to follow Jesus is an ongoing process of discernment and honesty but with much joy and freedom.
For example, what would Leviticus XXI century say? At least to me?
Use technology for your benefit, do not let technology use you.
Live without a sense of urgency. Not all texts, e-mails, tweets need to receive an immediate reply.
Have the courage to say things face to face. Do not hide behind a text or an email.
Eat well. Don’t eat too much or too little. Use food and exercise as they were meant to be - joyful occasions. Don’t be obsessed one way or another.
Don’t allow money to become your master. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you have, if you spend too much time thinking about it, it is controlling you.
Work should be viewed as a way of providing not as a way of making you a slave.
Treat those who are different from you, from other countries and cultures, with respect. But also be respectful of those even within Christianity who don’t think like you.
The list can go on and on, these are some of the things that I have been thinking about. The Gospel needs to affect the whole of our lives, not as sets of heavy rules but always as an invitation from a loving God. He wants us to live a good life not just for our benefit but also for those who live around us.
“So here is what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going to work, walking around life - and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him. Don’t become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognise what He wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” Romans 12:1-2 (The Message).
Ana Mullan is from Argentina but has lived in Ireland for 35 years, the last 18 in Dublin. She is an artist, a spiritual director, retreat facilitator and an enthusiastic grandmother.