By Ronnie McBrayer
When my wife decided to clean our children’s fish aquarium with a dose of anti-fungus agent, I thought that was a good idea. But when she medicated the water with ten times the recommended dose, things didn’t go as well as she had hoped. In her eagerness to rid the pet fishes’ world of contamination, she misread the box and misapplied the remedy. We didn’t know there was a problem until the next morning, when we found four goldfish half-scuttled at the top of the tank begging for air. Thankfully, we intervened just before our beloved pets went to the great fishbowl in the sky.
My wife’s zeal was a prime example of how too much of a good thing can become toxic rather than being helpful—not unlike religion. When it comes to the practice of faith, such practice is like a pharmaceutical. Within it, there is the power to heal and restore, or there is the power to consume and destroy. It can be a remedy for the soul’s ills, or it can be deadly poison, for the practitioner and everyone he or she encounters. Maybe this was what Jesus was getting at when he warned his disciples: “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16)! The Pharisees and Sadducees were religious zealots consumed with rituals, sacred protocols, and proper ceremonies.
Certainly these people had good and worthy intentions. They wanted to please God and see others do the same. Yet, their application of the product was over the top. Yes, what the Pharisees and Sadducees wanted was virtuous. But all their passion and enthusiasm left those around them floating belly-up, begging for air and mercy. To those struggling to breathe beneath the overdose of ritual and inflexibility Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11).
I certainly agree. People would live healthier, more whole, spiritual lives with a little less goop in their lives. But let’s make sure we don’t over-treat those around us. What we think will help them might actually send them floating belly-up to the surface.
Ronnie McBrayer is the author of “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus.” He writes and speaks about life, faith, and Christ-centered spirituality. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.