The clumps of long dry grass beside the small chapel had knots tied in the ends of the leaves. The belief was that if you could tie a knot in the grass with one hand, your prayers would be answered. One of the knots left that day was mine, not because I believed it had any power. I just wanted to see how easy, or not, it was to do.
Bolivian towns and cities have on their outskirts a “Calvary.” The one in LaPaz is up a considerable climb from the cathedral in the center of town. At this “Calvario” there is a small chapel with a statue of the Virgin inside. Candles burn at her feet. It’s many years since we were there, and I don’t know if anything has changed; but then during Holy Week and particularly on Good Friday, the deceived penitent could be seen crawling on hands and knees up the sharp rocked path. Small stones would be tossed up on the top of the pillars that represented the stations of the Cross. If the stones stayed, it was a sign of good fortune. Dad tells of one occasion when he visited the “Calvario” that there was a witch doctor there as well who would bless his subscribers in the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary, and the Spirit of Mount Illiampu. It was hoped that such pilgrimages would atone for sin.
This climbing, this doing, this act of penitence: is this what Paul means when he says that the righteousness based on faith does not say, “Who will ascend into heaven?” We so often think that we can do the climbing, that somehow we will be good enough to attain the heights of glory, that we can somehow be acceptable to God (or at the very least that we are not as bad as the guy down the street). So often we have adopted the false teaching of the far east that our deeds with will be weighed in a balance; and if the good is more than the bad, we will be okay. But, Paul asks, but what does the righteousness based on faith say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart…” We make it so complicated when it is so simple. We want to do when what is requires is only this: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”