In reading Living with the Devil: A Meditation on Good and Evil by Buddhist scholar Steven Batchelor, I was stimulated to bring you the following practical application of spirituality. Credit is due to Batchelor for certain quotes, ideas and paraphrases.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'”
(Jesus said:) “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:35-40)
Many UUs say that they practice the religion of Jesus rather than the religion about Jesus. The religion of Jesus is a path of action on behalf of the anguish and care of another — making an empathetic connection.
The foregoing story from Matthew’s gospel is a parable of the Last Judgment and how the righteous attain their reward. They are to care for others, not because of an eternal reward, but simply because it is the right thing to do: people are hungry, thirsty, without sufficient clothing, sick and in prison. Religious belief is about acting compassionately and responsively to real needs. The righteous are called to do, to act, not just to believe.
Many adherents of religions seek the security of a system of rules and prohibitions to guide them. Yet no rules can provide exact and literal instructions. We may be told not to kill, but when the life of a pregnant mother is at risk, is it acceptable to terminate the life of the unborn to save hers? Or do we let nature take its course and allow the woman to die? What does “do no harm” mean in this case?
At best ethical precepts provide a coherent framework for guiding one’s action. At worst, they encourage a self-righteous legalism that pays little heed to the care of another.
Some say faith is believing without seeing. Sounds risky. Yet to act is also to risk. The contingencies and complexities of life are such that we can’t foresee what will happen next. We act with the best intentions, having carefully weighed our options. Sometimes we make things worse, sometimes better. May the emphasis of our religion be on acting in accordance with our principles and values. May we be compassionate doers.