Sinatra’s Take on Jesus’ “My Way”

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The Western mind is rarely awestruck anymore. Even if Jesus were to appear and say something good and true and beautiful to someone on the street corner, that person might instinctively reach into his pocket and stuff a dollar-bill into Jesus’ belt—then rush away in fear. When it comes to faith, many people of the 21st century still share the philosophy of the 60s-era Frank Sinatra.

“To me religion is a deeply personal thing in which man and God go it alone together, without the witch doctor in the middle,” Sinatra told an interviewer for a national magazine at that time. “The witch doctor tries to convince us that we have to ask God for help, to spell out to him what we need, even to bribe him with prayer or cash on the line. Well, I believe that God knows what each of us wants and needs. It’s not necessary for us to make it to church on Sunday to reach Him. You can find Him anyplace. And if that sounds heretical, my source is pretty good: Matthew, Five to Seven.”

The average reader of that magazine might still think that’s a pretty hip take on organized religion. But would they like the way gospel writers Matthew and Mark say Jesus recruited disciples? Mark’s account of that process, which we read this Sunday (Mk 1:14-20), is almost verbatim what Matthew tells us in his:

As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22)

Like many of us, Sinatra seemed to cherry-pick what he liked of faith in general and scripture in particular. He loved what Jesus taught through those chapters of Matthew, but he, and often we, conveniently skip over some teachings—the ones that warn us about our weaknesses like anger, adultery, divorce, lying and revenge. Boiled down, the following admonition from Jesus STILL seems impossible for us to follow, and when we find it practiced by someone among us, it is cause for shock and awe:

“Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

And …

“Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

But Matthew’s gospel raised the stakes of the perfection to which we’re called. He wrote what Mark’s gospel originally didn’t conclude with: that the disciples believed Jesus rose! Mark’s gospel originally ended this way:

Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mk 16:8)

Compare this to Matthew’s take:

Then they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples. (Mt 28:8)

But Matthew doesn’t end there. He concludes his gospel offering an image of Jesus similar to how we imagined Jesus at the start of this post: appearing on our turf, seemingly out of nowhere, instructing potential disciples to carry on the work he started:

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt 28:19)

Sinatra and many of us 21st Centurions have run out of the building we call church in fear that it might house the truth about the risen Christ—forcing us to live up to God’s standard of perfection. But Church is not just a building. It’s what Jesus and the original disciples built, believer by believer. Religion’s most important way to belief starts with how we treat each other—spouse AND neighbor. Trying to bring that aspect of God’s perfection to each other is what life’s all about. When we come close to doing so, that’s something both real and awe-inspiring—not the stuff of witch doctors.

–Tom Andel


  1. Reading the gospel is one thing. Following the teachings of Jesus as handed down to us is a very different thing.
    I hear this argument a lot about finding Jesus everywhere, and we don’t have to follow the teachings of the Church. Rubbish!

    The people that espouse that theory are either ignorant, lazy, or both.

    We have the handbook with clear instructions. It’s not complicated. Why then do so many resist?

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