“Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers*. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Luke 18:10-14 NLT
*Add your own sin of choice here. There are many to pick from.
Maybe we don’t mean it, but we can get a bit ‘uppity’ in church circles, especially with anyone who hasn’t been on the way so long and doesn’t know the ropes, or maybe someone who already knows it all and isn’t slow to say so, or even someone who has been a Christian many years, but has a God forgiven unsavoury past that we don’t approve of. Oh, how far back our memory can go when we see ourselves as elite, or like the Pharisee, just ‘better’. After all, we don’t want to be seen condoning that kind of sinful behaviour no matter when it happened, and even if it has been forgiven by the only One that matters.
Jesus told this story for a reason. He knew how frail and weak we humans are, jumping to conclusions for all the wrong reasons and in the process hurting good people. All in the ‘holy’ quest of not wanting to be like or near the despised sinner. I accept and agree that we must be a good example and witness to the unchurched as Jesus was, and that will mean being in their company at times. However it should not mean that we become just like them, or one of their company in the process.
The trouble is that while we take our perhaps well meaning steps to be better Christians, we are not the ones that Jesus said are justified before God. If we put ourselves in a lofty position above others, we then are forced to look down on them. Is that what we want? Is that what Jesus would want for us? There may be a price to pay. We will have to swallow our pride and accept that we must love that same person we had been trying to avoid, while forgiving both them and ourselves. But try to be honest, hard as it may be, because that’s a better outcome in Jesus’ eyes and isn’t that what matters most? Yes, I thought so too!