The Righteous Gemstones is an HBO show about a famous, successful, yet dysfunctional televangelist family. They have mega-churches, highly successful ministries, missions all around the world, mansions, and private jets at home. People love the Gemstones, their lavish and large churches, eloquent preaching and teaching. There is an abundance of prayer, Bible-quoting and Jesus talk in this show. But there is one thing you will not find here: God. Somewhere along the path of their service to God, the righteous Gemstones lost God. Their ministry and faith degraded and became nothing but an instrument for accumulating fame, fortune and using God for their own agendas and vision. Later in the show, they realize and confront this dark reality and struggle to heal their relationship with God.
Faith can be many things to many people. In the history of humanity, there is probably nothing that was used and abused more than faith, religion and God. People have used faith to justify horrible things and used it to fulfill their agendas and plans. And even with our personal life, it is very easy and tempting to allow our faith to mutate to a perspective where God is viewed and seen as some sort of super-being who we turn to for the our wishes and desires to be realized. Of course, we are invited and encouraged to raise and share all our concerns and worries with God. But if that is all our faith is, then we need to take a hard look and evaluate our faith. The Holy Bible and the Church teach us that God is not interested in being our personal genie in a bottle who pops into our lives, grants our wishes and goes back into the bottle. What God truly desires is a living and life-giving relationship and friendship built on trust and love.
The Scripture reading for this Sunday tells us that the crowd witnessing the multiplication of the bread wanted to capture and take Jesus to Jerusalem by force and make him a King. Perhaps the prospect of having a ruler who could multiply and produce food out of thin air is what excited and inspired the crowd. Good cause, wrong reason. Christ was not there to simply feed them and care for their physical needs. When we treat God as some sort of wish-making vending machine, the presence of God leaves us. That is exactly what happened according to the Gospel. Jesus left them and went to a mountain. Some translations say Jesus fled from them.
There is a beautiful story in the Old Testament book of Exodus (see Exodus 33:1-23). God appears to Moses and tells him that everything is ready for Israel to enter the Promised Land of their dreams. But because they are ‘stiff-necked people’ who continuously misunderstand, manipulate, and disobey God, He will not be traveling with them. Instead, He will send his angel who will fight and defeat the powerful armies of their enemies. It appeared that all Israel ever wanted – freedom, prosperity and power – were finally within reach. But Moses, in his infinite wisdom and holiness, understood that without the presence of the living and loving God among them none of that mattered. So he argued, questioned and begged God to reconsider and boldly rejected any notion of a prosperous and promising future without God.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, of course, there are moments and times in life when we turn to God and ask him for an intervention in a specific situation or event. Yet, the most precious thing that God can possibly give to us is his presence in our lives. Let us examine our faith and consider who God is for us. Let us nurture and deepen our relationship with Christ, open the doors of our hearts and invite our friend and savior into our lives.