Last week, one of the students I work with at our local high school wore a t-shirt for the punk band Bad Religion to school. I didn’t think much of it until one of the other staff members brought it to my attention. The logo on this shirt featured a skeleton dressed in a nun’s habit with an upside down cross hanging around it’s neck. Though I could see how the logo would have been offensive to some, especially Catholics, there was something in the design that resonated with how Jesus viewed shallow religion without substance.
The more I thought about the symbolism of the shirt, the more it reminded me of the words of Jesus to the religious leaders of His day:
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Matthew 23:27, 28 (NLT)
Jesus isn’t interested in outward religious appearances. He cares about what is going on inside. If we engage in a bunch outward religious activity without letting it transform our hearts, we are like a skeleton wearing religious garments. All we have, then, is dead religion.
I doubt I’d ever be able to totally embrace the punk and death metal my young friend listens to, but his desire for something authentic is what I’ve come to appreciate about him. When he talks about his favorite bands and the things he cares about, you can hear in his words a desire for something that goes beyond the shallow, superficial life many in our culture settle for. My hope is that one day he’ll have a real encounter with the One who came to give us real life, not dead religion. I also hope that he will inspire others on a similar quest.