Somewhere in the last couple of days, I read something that referenced Luke 18:9-14; that’s the story about the Pharisee and the tax collector and how they prayed. When the Pharisee prayed, he thanked God that he wasn’t like some of the scummy people he encountered (the tax collector being one of those) and talked about all the wonderful things he did, how he fasted and tithed. The tax collector, on the other hand, threw himself on the ground and begged God to have mercy on him because he was sinner. I know some people don’t like The Message (modern language bible), but I like the way it puts Jesus’ explanation of this parable: “This tax man, not the other, went home-made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.” It’s not a perfect translation (heck, it’s not even that, it’s a paraphrase), nor is it the poetry of the King James Version. What it is, though, is succinct and understandable. But, I’m not writing this to advertise The Message or tout anything version of the Bible. What I want to say is, all too often, I’m the Pharisee instead of the tax collector.
Now, if you haven’t done some Bible study or the like, you may be wondering what was so bad about tax collectors. Tax collectors had the reputation of being greedy, sticky-fingered collaborators that soaked people for more than they were truly required to pay. That’s because whatever the tax man collected over the amount set by the Romans, he got to keep. You can see how that might cause a problem. These folks weren’t in the top tier of Jewish society, to say the least. The closest modern equivalent I can think of would be a loan shark. Definitely people on the margins and I don’t have a problem with those folks. Most of the time, anyway. The Pharisee is another story. For me, fundamentalists and ultra-conservative Christians are modern-day Pharisees and, in my opinion, Pharisees are the enemy; a brood of vipers, if you will. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve thought “Oh God, I’m glad I’m not like that” after dealing with some hardcore fundamentalists. I’ve never actually prayed it, so I guess that’s something. But, thinking it’s bad enough.
A few months ago, I would’ve laughed in your face if you told me I could learn something from people I saw as diametrically opposite from what I believe (and, by extension, the message of Christ). But, that’s changing. Not so much theologically, as in practical matters. I have to say I’m a little jealous of their zeal, even if it does lead places I don’t care for. Sometimes I wish I could be as sure about things as they seem to be. And, this is where I realized they could teach me a thing or two, they understand that young people are the key to the future of the Church. They invest so much more in their youth than us mainstream people. I wish we did that.
I’m trying to come up with ways to remind myself not to walk around with my nose in the air and remember that even those that disagree with me are my brothers and sisters. My former pastor used to talk about printing “Love God, Love your neighbor” on her glasses so she wouldn’t forget, but that wouldn’t work for me. I’m terrible about keeping mine clean and adding more crap wouldn’t be good. Maybe I can tattoo “Luke 18:9-14” in the palm of my hand or something. Nah, I’ll still screw up and all that pain would be for nothing.