Sunday Thoughts

by

by Al Sturgeon
(published each week in Desperate Houseflies)

THE STORY OF ME AND A TAX COLLECTOR

I didn’t get to this passage in my Young Adult class this morning, and I’m kind of interested in everyone’s thoughts:

The passage is from Luke 18 (RSV):

9: He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: 10: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11: The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12: I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13: But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14: I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

I’m not a fan of taking passages out of context, but in this section of Luke, the good doctor seems to be saying, “Here, take these out of context.” He even helps out by telling us what we’re supposed to get out of each section before letting us in on the words of Jesus.

I still have trouble getting it.

Oh, I’ve known the passage all my life, and I can read a sentence (once it’s translated from Greek, that is…). I’m trying to “get” it, though.

On the “duh” level, Jesus is on the record as being against extortion, injustice, adultery, and taking advantage of people for money. He is also pretty open about being for fasting (once He levitated back to somewhere) and an admirer of those who give (cite: widow’s mites story). We’re together on all this, I’m sure… He isn’t claiming that the Pharisee’s deeds are bad, or that the Tax Collector’s deeds are good.

So what is Jesus talking about?

According to Luke’s interpretive lead-in, this parable is aimed directly at those who believed in their hearts that they were okie-dokie with God while looking down their noses at other people. Okay, that gets a lot of us, right?

So what’s the message then? Well, the grand summation from the lips of Jesus is this: humble yourself, not exalt. Specifically, bring yourself down, don’t lift yourself up. Those are the definitions of those words at least.

So I need all of you to help me out here. I’m far too practical to leave the story hanging without a little thought on what to “do” about it. I doubt seriously Jesus told the story for the people to leave unchanged – or for me to be unchanged either.

So what do we do with it?

Because if it is saying that I/we cannot be confident in our acceptance by God, then I need to cut 1st John out of my Bible.

And if it is saying that God enjoys our groveling, then there goes a big chunk of Philippians, too.

But if it’s saying that we shouldn’t see ourselves as better than, say, drug dealers, child abusers, terrorists, traitors, and atheists… well, I’m afraid most of the Christian attempts at organizing religion are in the crosshairs, too.

Comments anyone?

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18 Responses to “Sunday Thoughts”

  1. Whitney Says:

    Al,
    I happen to love this particular parable. It is so easy for us to look down on others, both covertly and overtly, for things for which we consider ourselves superior.

    Obviously, if we cut down others and exalt ourselves overtly we are sinning and need to do a reality check.

    Also, if we talk the talk (how we are all equal, blah, blah, blah), but still are thinking in our minds about how terrible “those” people are, I think we are in more trouble.

    We need to continually assess ourselves to understand how we judge others. Do we judge them against ourselves? Against God’s word? Do we condemn them as humans instead of accepting them as God’s children?

    God also says “don’t throw pearls to swine”, but that doesn’t mean we have to treat people like swine, does it?

    I think when it comes to how and why we should and should not judge others, we have to be very, very careful and make sure our judgments are 1) in accordance with the Word; an 2) not of a nature that lead us to feelings of superiority (and hypocritical actions).

    We must continually humble ourselves before God, and I think it is doable without groveling. I am such an imperfect person and Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for me. How can that NOT be humbling?

    I think your question is actually fairly easy to answer. But it is much more difficult to actually practice.

    Thanks for the challenge!

  2. DeJon Redd Says:

    I admit I prefer to identify with the protagonist in a Bible story. I find a lot more comfort in identifying with a Bible hero like Stephen, Paul or Jesus than with Ahab, Gomer or Ananias.

    I understand my shortcomings cause to me to fall short of God’s requirement. I find it all too UNcomfortable to consider these shortcomings as evil or disgusting to God.

    Perhaps someone else (like Hitler or Tim McVeigh) may feel the same way

  3. Michael Lasley Says:

    I think I read that story a bit differently than you, Al, simply because I don’t think either man matters in the story. Whether they grovel about themselves or are confident in themselves doesn’t seem to be the point to me. It’s their confidence in God that seems to matter. The self-righteous man doesn’t have confidence in God–he has confidence in himself. The tax-collector is the opposite. I think humility is a huge part of the story, but the humility isn’t a self-loathing sort but a humility before God. I don’t think people have to degrade themselves to be humble. And I don’t think being humble and having confidence are mutually exclusive. It’s where or in whom the humility and confidence are placed.

  4. jo Says:

    “But if it’s saying that we shouldn’t see ourselves as better than, say, drug dealers, child abusers, terrorists, traitors, and atheists… well, I’m afraid most of the Christian attempts at organizing religion are in the crosshairs, too.”

    The thing is we aren’t better than drug dealers, child abusers, terrorists, etc. – but I do not see how that puts Christian attempts at organizing religion in the crosshairs.
    Anyway, it is not about religion – it is about relationship. And in our relationship with God there are only two – redeemed or not. We all stand in relation to God in one of those two ways.

    The Pharisee said, “I thank thee that I am not like other men. . . “
    Thing is – HE IS! JUST like other men. The tax collector got that. Maybe if we substitue preacher for pharisee and homosexual for tax collector it moves it more into today’s sphere.

    We are all the same – in one of two relationships to God.

    It seems to me the first was counting on what He did to make him right with God whereas the second was counting on God’s mercy.
    I’ll take the mercy thanks.

    I don’t see that it says anything about being “accepted” by God and I don’t see the second man’s behavior as groveling – it is just truth.

  5. juvenal_urbino Says:

    According to my Priory of Sion Orientation Handbook, this parable means direct descendants of Jesus are eternally tax-exempt.

  6. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Thanks for all the comments. For a second there, I thought I must have written about politics. 🙂

    I agree (of course) with the basic idea behind several of the comments that our inferiority to God does not require self-loathing or rule out confidence (which I suggested in my facetious comment about cutting out Philippians or 1st John).

    Which makes the Pharisee (me) in the story so much more confusing. He recognized his inferiority to God (which is evident in his prayer giving God the thanks), and he most definitely wasn’t self-loathing or w/o confidence. He goes on to give God the credit (not himself) that he doesn’t hurt other people and that he follows God’s instructions. And this is bad to Jesus.

    Some of your comments go on to say that the Pharisee was not superior to the Tax Collector, at least on some level. I’d agree if we were just saying that neither was good enough to save them without God. His actions, however, WERE superior to those of the tax collector. And actions DO matter, once again at least on some level. Don’t they?

    Read the story carefully: The Pharisee was not expressing trust in his actions to save himself outside the mercy of God. He was simply giving God the credit that he treated others well and followed the Law. Yet, (repeating myself here), this was bad.

    I think it must pack more meaning than all of this. As Mikey points out, it must be all about humility – since that is Jesus’s punch line. Humble yourself, not exalt.

    I’m still searching for what that means in spite of good comments.

    I am little compared to God. Given. The Pharisee knew that.

    I can’t save myself in the end from death anymore than a child molester could. I’m with you there. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think the Pharisee knew that, too. [I think the “trusted in themselves” translation in unfortunate – it seems that the translation is simply that he knew in his heart he was right with God (i.e. confidence).] I suspect the fact that he couldn’t save himself is why he followed the Law and told everyone else to follow the Law, too.

    That leaves me with either “don’t take pride in anything good that you do” (i.e. self-loathing) or “it doesn’t matter what I do at all.” I can’t really buy either of these.

    The only thing I can buy right now is that the parable simply means to view, and therefore treat, everyone as equals. Plug in the worst: Look at them as your equal. Then treat them that way (or possibly, given NT references, treat them as if they were “better” than you). The sexual deviant. The criminal. The racist. The jerk at church that complains about everything. The lazy. Don’t look down on these people.

    I’m coming to think that this story is all about how we “look” at people. Not how we look at God, but how we look at people. That’s it.

    If that’s true, how do you look at people?

  7. Michael Lasley Says:

    The tax collector doesn’t, in this story, look at anybody else. I can’t get away from thinking that it has more to do with how we view ourselves than how we view others. Even though vs. 9 says explicitly that the parable was about people who despise others. Mikey

  8. Greg Says:

    Al;

    I’ve been monitoring this blog for a few days now. I’m trying to get a handle on the medium so I can use it to teach Bible classes online. Yours is one of the blogs I book marked.

    I read with interest your musings on the parable of the tax collector and the pharisee. Your original post left me, at least at one level, puzzled. But then, I can’t identify with the pharisee. I’m a sinner. I know that. I, in fact, am astonished that God would accept me despite my so obviously falling short of His Glory.

    You end your last post with “how do you look at people?” I’ve long thought that Christianity is more about how we treat our waitress after church than how we act on Sunday morning. That having been said, is that all the parable teaches? I don’t think so.

    Certainly the parable teaches that we are not to disparage others because of their status in life. We are no more to look down our noses at a homeless person than we are to idolize a Hollywood star.

    But there is a vertical component to the message as well. God can see past our daily comings and goings and into our heart. He knows our motives. He knows where we’re coming from. He knows the difference between religiousity and repentance. If all we do is go through the motions, we have no relationship with Him, hence, the seemingly inconsistent treatment of the pharisee.

    The message ultimately is that God hates a proud heart. It’s pride that got us into this sin thing in the first place and (often times) pride that keeps us from accepting the gift of salvation through Jesus.

    How we treat other people is merely a reflection of how we look at God, and perhaps by extension, how we look at ourselves.

    Greg in Texas

  9. juvenal_urbino Says:

    “How we treat other people is merely a reflection of how we look at God”

    They are, in fact, the same thing.

  10. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I’m probably way off base in all this – it wouldn’t be the first time. I’m enjoying the exchanges anyway.

    I don’t think the story is even about the tax collector. I think he is just useful to drive the point home to the folks referenced in verse 9 (and Mikey, verse 9 is why I’m left thinking the way I am right now…).

    I’d agree that the parable involves how we look at ourselves, but I for one can’t do much of that without a frame of reference. I am just “me” if left in isolation. In community, I view myself in relationship somehow. Maybe no one else does, but I don’t know of any other way…

    I constantly compare myself. I try to be – and think that I am (there I go again) – one of the least judgmental people I know (by that I mean that I don’t “treat” people differently in general). It just seems to be human nature to me that we compare ourselves to others, though.

    I’m finding the parable useful to teach me that when I start to compare myself (which comes naturally), to place myself on the SAME level as others every time (if not a lower level, maybe the source for another blog post). Never higher. Even when the evidence screams otherwise.

  11. Brian Says:

    Good Topic by the way,

    I think that you cannot eliminate the vertical relationship between individual and God from the horizontal between individuals. This is a perfect example of that topic. As proof of my point, let me reference Matt. 22:37-40.

    When the pharisees wanted to trap Jesus by asking what the greatest command was. The pharisees held all commands equal and thus by saying one was greater than another would be blaspheming the law of Moses. However, Christ outsmarts them by bringing up the passage about loving your God with all of your heart et. al. However, he does an interesting thing next, he says the seond greatest commandment is like the first–Love your neighbor as yourself. This addition is not a new development as the old convenant is rife with passages about caring for those less fortunate. However, combining the two gives great insight into the ministry of our Lord.

    This parable has at the root of it a similar question: Who is exalted in the eyes of God? The Pharisee exalts himself by listing all the honors that he has acheived. The tax collector in turn humbles himself by realizing his fate as a sinner. Though the story does not explicitly say anything about repentance, I think it is clear from Jesus’ interpretation that the tax collector is repentant of his sins. This ability to realize his condition without God’s forgiveness (even under the Old Covenant–grace) is a beauty within the parable that I am not sure any quite fully addressed yet.

    There are a number of lessons here and angles to be taken, but humility, love of others and our inability to be righteous without He who is Right have to be at the top of the list.

  12. Greg Says:

    Great discussion here.

    Sometimes I wonder stuff just because I wonder it. One of the things I wonder is, given the Bible is true (and I believe it is), then are the parables that Jesus told about real people? I tend to believe that they are. And if they are, that would make the tax collector very important, at least to God and the tax collector. And yes, the most beautiful part of the story is the repentant heart of the tax collector and the implied grace that he receives.

    Greg in Texas

  13. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Personally Greg, I don’t think the parables are about real people in general, though the scene offered for this one must be replayed millions of times in life…

    Whether it was real or not, I think the “real person” played by the Tax Collector in this story is w/o a doubt important to God. I just don’t think he is the point of the parable. Instead, he is useful to catch the attention of the intended recipient of this message – the man who looks down on another man. (“A tax collector is justified instead of me?!?!”)

    Just in my humble opinion…

    Thanks for the comment.

    And thanks to Brian, too, for his good thoughts…

  14. Duane McCrory Says:

    I’m not sure if I have enough time to do this justice, but I’d like to weigh in on this and give some of my own perspective here.

    I think what is missing in most posts here is a look at Luke’s point in his gospel, or at least one of his points. One of the major things we fail to get is the total shock of this story to Jesus’ hearers (and maybe Luke’s gospel audience as well, but probably not). This is what happens when we decide to take this completely out of its’ context (sorry Al) within Luke’s gospel and within Jesus’ lifetime as two different levels of necessary contextual understanding.

    On the level of the audience to which Jesus was speaking, if there was any group in a right (or “righteous”) relationship with God, it was the Pharisees. Why was this so? It was because they knew the Law and actually followed it. They gave their tithes and did their sacrifices as required by the Law. They kept themselves ritually clean and put a hedge around the Law so that they would be sure not to disobey even a part of it. (See Paul, Philippians 3:6, claiming that he was “blameless” as to righteousness by means of the Law. This is not just an empty claim; it is absolutely true from his perspective as a Pharisee.) The blessings and curses idea of Deuteronomy 30 was not applied collectively as a nation but individually so that those with wealth were considered righteous (not tax collectors, though, because of their occupation and close association with Gentiles and especially the Roman government) and blessed by God because of their good deeds. The cursed ones were the poor of the land (the majority of the population) who were perpetually in a wrong (not righteous) relationship with God. They did not have the money to pay the temple tax, keep up with their required sacrifices, and continued to get poorer and poorer. They had no hope of ever being in a right relationship with God. These are the “sinners” of Luke’s gospel (just take a look at how many times this is used in Luke’s gospel compared to the other three and you’ll understand more of Luke’s point). (BTW a good book to read on this subject is Jesus, Justice and the Reign of God by William Herzog II.) Jesus reverses their expectation (take a look at Mary’s song in Luke 1, especially the part about scattering the proud, pulling the mighty down from their thrones, exalting the lowly, filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty of verses 51-53) by saying that the one least likely to be righteous before God went home in a state of right relationship with him. Astounding! Think of what good news this is to the people hearing who are also among the perpetually unjustified before God. This is the same idea behind the “rich man and Lazarus” story of Luke 16. The rich are blessed by God (see Job who though for a moment has everything taken away eventually gets double back) and the poor are those cursed by him. The audience expects that the rich man will be in “Abraham’s bosom,” whatever that means, and that poor Lazarus will be in torment. Jesus completely reverses expectations. Okay, so that is pretty much Jesus’ original point.

    Now for Luke’s point of giving the explanation that Al points out. Perhaps Luke’s first hearers (the gospels were not read privately like you and I do with them, but publicly in “church”) were struggling with their position before God and heard this as good news also. (It would take too long to discuss the makeup of Luke’s first hearers, sorry, but most good scholarly commentaries will give you some decent information. The one I prefer is by Luke Timothy Johnson and is in the Sacra Pagina series.) After the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, the Pharisees, the ones who said it was all about observing the Law anyway and not necessarily about sacrifices, would be solidifying this belief and would still see especially their Christian counterparts as not being “righteous” before God. The poor, uneducated Christians (there is a reason Luke points this out about Peter and the Twelve), which was by far the majority of early Christians, might be wondering if they are not blessed by God and wonder what their standing would be before him. Luke’s gospel and Acts reinforce God’s preferential option for the poor and outcast of this world. This would also be “good news” to them. This is way before the time of Constantine and Christian dominance and power in the Western world. Christians were severely criticized by the Roman educated and elite for being the poor, uneducated, and even for having too many women in the group. So, on Luke’s audience’s level, I still think this is written to encourage them and they might put themselves in the tax collector’s shoes or at least be reconfirmed in their belief that God is still with them despite their poverty and lack of success in the world’s eyes. They are “righteous” not because of anything they have done but because of what God did for them through Jesus’ sacrifice.

    When we skip these two steps, we misunderstand the parable itself and all too easily misapply what it means because we might not have grasped its meaning for its original hearers in Jesus’ day and subsequent hearers in Luke’s day. There is also a big point about the restoration of Israel in Luke-Acts for all of you fellow restorationists out there, but I don’t have time to mention how we failed in understanding what restoration really means. In Luke-Acts, the message is that outcasts like the poor, blind, lame, tax collectors and, yes, even Gentiles, are included as the fulfillment of Israel’s hope.

    Now to make the jump from then to today, we have to at least be encouraged that we are part of the people of God as Gentiles and are in a right relationship with God because of what Jesus has done. We are not the modern-day tax collector nor are we the modern-day Pharisee, I hope, but we have a greater chance of being the latter in Churches of Christ (intentional big “C”). We have in the past (I hope this is starting to become our past not our present) been convinced that we are the only ones who have it right and are in a right relationship with God. We have been like the Pharisees who put a hedge around the Law so that no one could be “in” who did not do what they determined were the right things (this sounds all too familiar). For those of us who still feel that they are the only ones going to heaven (to put it in our typical understanding of salvation, which is bereft of many important biblical concepts about salvation) to the exclusion of others, they need to put themselves in the Pharisees’ shoes. Perhaps even those of us in the wealthy few (just being an American pretty much puts you into this category of the world’s population) need to hear this as the Pharisee, but perhaps not (see that the tax collector was certainly rich). If we consider these people as real people, or at least look at it from inside the story, neither of them know Jesus’ pronouncement of their fates. The Pharisee still goes home thinking he is righteous and the tax collector still goes home thinking he is a sinner. What has changed in the life of these two people? Absolutely nothing from their own point of view. But from God’s point of view, one was righteous and the other was not. One was in a right relationship with God and one of the people of God while the other was not. Maintaining an attitude of arrogance will get us into trouble as we are all sinners standing in need of God’s grace. Notice that the tax collector did not compare himself to anyone else, but just realized that he was a sinner. The shocking news for us today might be how many people God counts righteous that we would count as sinners.

    Thanks for reading this post that is way too long.

    Duane

  15. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Thanks for the help, Duane!

    See what happens when you leave a non-scholar in charge of the religion column? He starts taking things out of context and everything…
    🙂

    If you have time, I have a follow-up question that I’d be very interested in hearing you address.

    Before I ask it, though…

    I hope I don’t oversimplify when I combine your thoughts on two different chronological audiences, but let me try to restate what you said so well to make sure I got it:

    You see the message to be that God reverses worldly (sorry Trent) expectations. You said that explicitly in regard to the audience Jesus addressed personally, but it seems to work for your explanation of Luke’s overall point, too.

    Now if this is the overall point, I’m right there with you (well, not intellectually, but…).

    My question, I guess, is a practical one. Jesus’s punch line is to humble yourself. What does that mean in practice?

    If I read your application paragraph correctly, you would say that one religious group shouldn’t claim exclusive rights to God. And that the wealthy should not claim favored status either.

    You could tell from my comments that I’m now living in the world of “how am I to look at other people” as I seek to interpret the parable.

    Church of Christ person = Don’t claim you’re the only ones going to Heaven…

    Wealthy American (who uses redundancies) = Don’t think God loves you more than poor Iraqi children…

    You see, at this point, I’m more than happy to do both of those things, but the Pharisee/Tax Collector metaphor seems to go far past friendly Methodists and poor Muslim children…

    Where does this “humbling” of ourselves reach in terms of, let’s say, how I look at a child molester? In terms of those who HATE America?

    How am I to humble myself in regard to situations such as these? Or is this a totally invalid parable to deal with such questions?

  16. Duane McCrory Says:

    Al, thanks for reading!

    Okay, I’ll try to answer as I hear your question, but with some more ideas on the front end as well.

    In the case of their (1st Century Palestinian Jewish leadership) cultural and theological understanding of how God works, Jesus is saying that God is reversing their expectations as to who is righteous, who is a member of God’s people, and such. Keep in mind that those considered as second-class citizens, for a variety of reasons, included women (who couldn’t go as far as men could into the temple), Gentiles of course, who could only go so far as the outer courts, and those mutilated or crippled in some way were not pure enough to enter. (Think of the Ethiopian eunuch who came all the way from Ethiopia to Jerusalem for Passover, but could not even enter the temple courts. What does that say about his faith? I digress.) Jesus is saying especially in Luke as Luke presents his portrait of Jesus that he reverses expectations. For Mark, more central to his message in his presentation of Jesus is that we are to be challenged as to whether or not we really understand who Jesus is. The disciples didn’t. Part of Mark’s intention as I see it is that we as the audience should put ourselves in the place of the ignorant disciples and reevaluate our own understanding of Jesus as it is most likely flawed. The reason I bring this up is that Jesus did not reverse ALL expectations, but in the situation of the Pharisee and tax collector, he certainly did. Some of the ways he did not reverse expectations are that he was a Law-observant Jew (circumcised on the eighth day, but also taught in synagogues, although choosing the 12 disciples was somewhat different [followers tended to choose a Rabbi to follow, the Rabbi did not choose them], the fact that they were men would not have appeared out of place at all. [I do realize there were women who followed and Jesus was very sympathetic to women, but he did not choose any to be in his inner circle of 12.]} I’m assuming you get my point.

    Now that I feel like I have cleared that up, let me get a little bit closer to your question. You asked, or rather stated that your interpretation centered on, “how am I to look at other people?” I would say the answer, as I see it in this parable, is contained within your question. You look at them as people, not as child molesters, not as people who hate America, but simply as people. This is one of the biggest problems the Pharisee had—he did not see them as people, but saw them as their sin. He did not consider people to be people, but he calls them (RSV) “extortioners, unjust, adulterers” and “tax collector.” They were not people who happened to commit adultery; he considered adultery to be their very identity. Jesus saw people as people who happened to commit sins, not as “sinners” (Luke’s term) by identity. (I may have to discuss that at length later as there will likely be those reading this who would claim that we are by very nature sinners and that is part of our identity. I’ll just let the fodder come out and see what happens.) The humility of the tax collector was in not comparing himself to anyone else, but realizing that he was a sinner in need of God’s grace. He realized his own condition before God and asked for mercy. If you want to practice the humility of the parable, that is what you should do. It is not about how you look at other people, but how you look at yourself and your own relationship with God. Looking at other people and characterizing them according to the sins they have committed is both unfair and can’t help but put us into competition with others either to see who’s the greatest (seems like I remember Jesus discussing that too), or who’s the worst (which can also be a competition because if I’m the worst, then you can’t be worse than me and there’s some arrogance in that as well, as twisted as it might seem). It is not about comparison. I should not act as if I am a child molester, or as if I’m an adulterer. I have my own sins for which I am in need of grace. But I should no more be characterized by them than I should treat anyone else that way.

    Let me give you an example (I’m starting to get preachy if you can’t tell). There’s a small church in West Texas where I used to preach. One of the men who grew up there but now lives in a larger town would come out to visit pretty often. He would not call me “Duane,” but would always call me “preacher.” One of the reasons I got so frustrated at that was because that is all he saw me as—I am the preacher, not just a human being who happens to preach. When we label people, which we often tend to do (like political conservative or political liberal), we can compartmentalize them and we no longer see them as the people they are. Two good stories from the life of Jesus that also address this question are the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 and the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11. Jesus could have seen the Samaritan woman as a divorcee and an adulteress, but instead he saw her as a person in need of God’s grace. He saw past her sin to who she really was. It is the same with the woman caught in adultery, which answers this question even more poignantly. The people there did not want to be identified by the sins they committed any more than the woman wanted to be treated as just an adulteress. They realized this and so they left.

    Okay, let me finish my rambling and get to a point. Everyone knows of a situation in which a person is caught in a rather public sin and people start to think, “but I thought he or she was such a good person. They could never have done that.” It is as if everything good that that person did was negated by the one (or multiple) sinful acts. For instance, a preacher caught in adultery with a member will forever be judged as an adulterer. People will think that all his ministry is for naught or at least that every time he was preaching he must have been conflicted with his sin and so his preaching was not valid. They start to doubt everything he taught or said or all his actions based on that one or multiple times of committing adultery. But we humans are not like that. We are not completely bad any more than we are completely good. We are very good at compartmentalizing things in our own minds. I can yell at a driver that cut me off on the way to worship and never think a thing about it when I’m worshiping. (That’s just an easy sin to mention because it doesn’t condemn me as much.) We are good at seeing ourselves as basically good people who happen to sin, but we don’t treat other people that way. We have a huge problem with giving them the benefit of the doubt, especially when they have sinned against us. It is so much easier for us to write them off as evil, spiteful people than to see them as human beings who need our forgiveness as well as God’s. It is easy for us to look at people as homosexuals, child molesters, religious fanatics, and the like instead of seeing them as people. That is when we are exalting ourselves over them and placing them in a category of less than human—someone I don’t have to deal with rather than someone God loves.

    Although this parable does address your questions in the sense mentioned above, the parable of the compassionate person who happened to be a Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 addresses the issue of racial hatred more succinctly.

    I hope this is an adequate answer, but if you have other questions, I’d be happy to address them, too.

  17. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Thanks, Duane, for a much more than adequate response. Do we have a term paper in the class, or is there just a final?
    🙂

    Hate the sin, love the sinner, right? That reminds me of one of my favorite C.S. Lewis discussions on how to do just that. Lewis wrote that he finally realized that – although it seemed impossible – he’d been doing this very thing for one person quite naturally, and for quite some time – himself. It was easy, in fact. He hated the bad things he did, but he kept caring for himself anyway…

    Too bad we don’t do that with everyone, huh?

    As you all might have suspected, I don’t really think I identify with the Pharisee in this parable. Which is exactly why I really do. I think there’s this terrific danger of glossing over the bad guys in the Bible and never seeing the relation. I see the relation.

    I won’t give specifics because people in my current locale might be reading, but I’ve “worked with” (if you will) all sorts of people here – people that fall into lots of the “bad” categories – categories so shocking that they’d NEVER want anyone else to know. After getting to know and care for them personally and sympathize with their struggle to do what is right – that’s when I start hearing the jokes from a different perspective. Not dirty jokes – just jokes where the punch line is some category of sin we find so far out that we’d never think that we know someone like that, much less go to church with them.

    What I notice is that these are the same jokes I’m familiar with…

    Which is why I need a constant seat with the Pharisee. To keep me humble, if you will… I think most of us good Christians enjoy identifying with the Tax Collector. It exalts us. Which flies in the face of the whole enchilada.

  18. Duane McCrory Says:

    Al,
    thanks for the great thoughts. I love C.S. Lewis. It seems like that second greatest command is pretty important. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It always seems awesome to me how most of life’s situations can be related to the two greatest commandments Jesus gives us, love God and love neighbor. It is doing this that is so hard.

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