Weekly Gospel Reflection—27 October 2013

Luke 18.9-14: Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust: “Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven. Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’ I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”

Since the Reformation (at least) a lot of Christian thought has painted the Jewish religion as a religion based on works. That is to say, if someone does certain things—keep the Sabbath, circumcision, and the dietary laws, etc.—one will become “right with G_d,” or, as the Common English Bible states it here, “justified.” But this isn’t really accurate.

The Mosaic Law was given, not as a list of works to justify oneself before Yahweh, but to show one’s faithfulness to Yahweh for what Yahweh had already done. That is, Yahweh had already rescued the people of Israel from Egypt. They had already been “justified” or “vindicated.” The Law was given to show them how to live out that vindication.

So, in this story, both people are children of Sarah and Abraham. That’s one of the points Jesus is making. Over and over again, he points out that the people whom the Religious Elite have marginalized are just as much children of Sarah and Abraham as they are (see Luke 13.10-17; 19.1-10).

But what about Luke’s commentary? That this story is about those who think themselves righteous and look down on others?

That’s another point. Again and again, the Religious Elite (the Pharisee in the story) see themselves superior to everyone else. This could also be said about the Sadducees or the Zealots or the Essenes or even the Sicarii, too. All of these factions saw themselves as the ultimate representation of what being faithful to Yahweh looked like. Everyone else, since they didn’t belong to their group, was looked down upon. The irony, here, is that this story is being told by Jesus, the True Israelite. The Truly Faithful One (see Romans 3.25; 5.1; 1 Peter 1.5).

Within Christianity, denominationalism is the most obvious example of this idea that a particular group is superior to another. The idea that one’s own stream of Christianity is the only proper one. This can be seen quite clearly when reading or listening to some of the Protestant churches—of how they look down upon the Roman Catholic church.

Further out, we can see this within the Protestant traditions—some Baptists think themselves “right” and others Protestant traditions are “wrong.” The same can be said about some Churches of Christ see their church as the “only true church.” The list goes on and on.

Further still, this points the finger to those who think that the Christian Religion is the “only true religion.” They look down upon those of other religious traditions—Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, etc., as misled or deceived. Of course, the same can be said of some of those traditions, too.

And further still again, some atheists and agnostics look with disdain upon those people who have any type of religion at all. “They’re superstitious and hate-filled people. Religion is what’s wrong with the world and we would be better off without it.”

Lastly, there’s some of us who think, “I’m sure glad I’m not like that Pharisee! I’m more like the ‘tax-collector’.” But isn’t that the same thing the Pharisee said, “God, I thank you that I’m not like...this tax collector”? Perhaps we’re not so different, after all.

This is where my first point ties in. The moment we look down upon the other, we have forgotten that she is our sister. He is our brother. How can we possibly think we are superior to our own flesh and blood? It’s because we have fallen for the great American lie that being reconciled to G_d is about us as individuals. That Jesus came to set us free individually. Nothing could be further from the truth. The images of reconciliation in the Bible are based in community—we’re either all condemned or we’re all vindicated. Think about the exile of Israel. Surely, there were some “righteous” individuals when Assyria or Babylon destroyed the city and Temple and enslaved the survivors. Most certainly there were. But that wasn’t the point. The point is the whole nation was “judged” together. Each one must take care of their neighbor. What happened was some (most) people started thinking only of themselves. They lost sight that they’re responsible for the well-being of their families and other people in their community. Loving G_d and one another is the only thing that will “save” us.

The artist, musician, and poet Trevor Hall (heck, I think he’s a prophet) speaks to this in his song, “Good Rain”:

If there’s a hole in your soul you gotta fill it
If your cup is overflowin’ don’t spill it
You better hold it while the whole world’s spinnin’ around

And when your eyes look down on another
Just remember that he’s your own brother
This kind of love ain’t gonna go under I've found
That when you love one another only good rain comes down

And if you feel like you’ve stopped learnin’
If the wood in your fire ain’t burnin’
Better spark another match start turning your wheel

Better turn it towards righteous livin’
Stop taking and start your givin’
Yeah, this is the one thing missing I feel
That loving one another is the only thing real

Don’t let your blessings turn into stone
That kind of living will leave you all alone

If there’s a hole in your soul you gotta fill it
If your cup is overflowin’ don’t spill it
You better hold it while the whole world’s spinning around

Don’t let your blessings turn into stone
That kind of living will leave you all alone

When you heart is troubled by feelin’
Yeah, remember there’s a way to spark healin’
Yeah, the first step is when you start believing it’s real
Yeah, this is the one thing missin’ I feel
That loving one another is the only thing real

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC


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