10-17-16 - Court is in Session

I used to be hyper-critical of myself (and others… those go hand-in-hand…). One day I realized I had a trial going on inside my head 24/7. This court was always in session; the judge never called a recess. The prosecutors were vehement, the defense attorney was, well, defensive, always trying to excuse… it was exhausting, trying to justify myself.

A new parable this week; this one is not hard to interpret. Luke telegraphs the message up front: “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.” That pretty much summed up the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, so focused on keeping the Law in minute detail they seemed to lose sight of both God and their neighbor.

Not much plot to this story – it’s more a situation with two well-known “types”: a Pharisee (professional do-gooder) and a tax-collector (corrupt extortionist, scum of the earth). Both are praying in the temple, but the Pharisee thanks God that he is so much more holy than other people, “especially people like that tax collector over there.” The tax collector, meanwhile, is abjectly repentant, pleading God’s mercy. Jesus says that this is the one who will go home “justified… for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

This parable is not a call to be modest or circumspect about our gifts or accomplishments. It’s a reminder to be clear about whose judgment on us matters: not our own, and not other peoples, but God’s. The Pharisee in Jesus’ story, even as a caricature, is an excellent likeness of those who usurp God’s role as judge, who dare to declare themselves worthy and others unworthy. (And it’s just as wrong to declare ourselves “bad” and others “better.”).

The Pharisee makes a case for his own goodness – his fasting, tithing, religiosity. And that case is never enough – it has to be augmented by comparison to someone less “good." That’s a problem with self-righteousness – we never get to rest our case. We have to keep marshaling evidence, comparing ourselves. The tax collector, as numerous as his sins may be, is honest before God.

So – which are you more like today? If you feel unsure of your righteousness as a child of God, why?
What evidence do you feel compelled to present? What does God say as you pray about that?
Do you find yourself comparing yourself to other people in order to feel better about yourself?
If there’s anyone you feel is beneath you… what if you pray for that person or group today.
Try on the idea that you are no better or worse than another – though your actions might be.

We have received the Spirit of Christ and his righteousness – we are worthy because of who he is. We can silence the prosecutor and fire the defense attorney; in fact, we can disband the whole court, because God has provided us an Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to stand with us. Actually, our case has already been decided – we’re good to go. Jesus said so.

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