There are three camps in Christianity right now that seem to be the most prevalent, and two of them I find to be fatally flawed and separate from the Gospel according to Jesus Christ. Both have their merits, but both are lacking something to be complete.
The first is the camp that our relationship with Jesus is a personal relationship. You often see people say don’t judge me, I only answer to God! In a way that’s correct, just as David said, I sinned against you and you alone, our concern should be first and foremost with God. That’s what Jesus said the most important commandment was right? So in a way our relationship with God is personal, it’s primary.. but it’s not just. Just said that was the first and greatest commandment, but then he went on to say there was a second, like it. (Another translation says “A second, equally as important” (see Mark 12:28-33). That makes a big difference doesn’t it?
Then the second camp, one less common but one the Pharisees themselves seem to have been guilty of, is that it’s a community relationship and only a community relationship. These are the people who put the commandments before the people. Their relationship is ONLY religion, only about the community. The Pharisees were very guilty of this, and if you watch the recent ‘Bible’ television series, you see some of that attitude. The “I need to protect my religion, my people” at all costs mentality. The man who follows his religion to a T but neglects the needs of his fellow brothers and sisters, this man puts community before person, there is no personal relationship, even among the community.. only the community structure. The white washed tomb that Jesus called them greatly expresses this ideal. They appear clean on the outside, because they do everything right, but on the inside.. it’s still dirty, still hate filled. We all seem to fall into that trap from time to time.. but notice that Jesus didn’t say for people to ignore the tradition? No.. Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. (Matthew 23:1-4)
So then what are we to do? We see here clearly that Tradition is not bad.. no the Tradition of the Pharisees was beautiful and had many beautiful teachings in it.. but they weren’t practicing what they preach. We also see that God is important, the first and foremost.. but so are our brothers and sisters.. So neither of these approaches work. Why? Because they try to separate the body from the head. You see with the first, you take you and try only have communion with the head, Jesus. With the second, you only have communion with the body as a whole, and not the head at all. Both ignore the other parts of the body and Sacred Scripture clearly tells us that we cannot separate the parts of the body. The eye cannot tell the hand I have no need of you (1 Corinthians 12:21), etc.
So we need all of it. We need the head, the body, and the parts! In order to be in communion with God who is a trinity.. we must also worship in a trinity (you’ll find this pattern all through scripture!) We have to be in communion with God, with the body, AND with each other! So that is the simple answer. Tradition is beautiful, but so is love. God is important, but so is your brother and sister. You love God BY loving each other. It’s really that simple.
That was one of the first things that drew me to Catholicism, and it’s the thing that keeps reminding me that this is home for me. That there is a huge emphasis on God, worshiping him and him alone. Yet, there is an emphasis on still talking among the body (both here and those already gone to Heaven), in the communion of saints. And yet there is still the personal relationship, how much more personal can it be than to go forward every Sunday and touch Jesus in such a unique way in the Eucharist? It’s all there.
And remember, the only person scripture records as saying “Am I my brothers keeper?” was the one who had just killed his brother.
Peace be with you,