The season of Advent has begun for Christians who will be celebrating the birth of Jesus 25 days from now. These 25 days are supposed to be a season of abstinence from certain foods and drinks so that the believer prepares himself spiritually for Christmas. Religion has no significance unless it makes one a better person and the practices like abstinence are meant to help one in the process of self-renewal. But can a set of practices or some rituals make anyone a better person? They can help. But Jesus was explicit in saying that religion is not a matter of rituals or regulations. Religion is an attitude of love and compassion.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the best in the Bible. A wayfarer was beaten up by thieves, stolen of all his possessions including his clothes, and was left “half dead” on the roadside. A priest came along but went away doing nothing to help the dying man. Then can a Levite. A Levite is a semi-priest in Judaism. He too refused to help the victim. The third person to come was a Samaritan. The Samaritans were religious converts and were held in contempt by orthodox Jews during the time of Jesus.
The Samaritan in Jesus’ parable went to the wounded man, treated him with whatever medication he had with him, took him to an inn and looked after him. The priest and the semi-priest were not religious, according to Jesus. Religion is not the uniform of the priest, or finding one’s residence in an ashram or presbytery. Religion is not recitation of prayers or performance of rituals. Religion is love and compassion. That’s basic message of Christmas, of any religion.