“I had a dream last night,” said my friend. “I was black , and I was looking in the mirror, thinking, Oh, if only I could have been born white!”
She was talking to me and another friend, who immediately agreed that Caucasians are often jerks toward African Americans, ignorant as we are due to white privilege.
Something about that conversation left me feeling guilty and ashamed. My two white friends figured they had a handle on race relations, but I picked up an unspoken message about being “one of those” whites.
That conversation took place decades ago. The new Phariseesm is even more in-your-face.
It’s ironic, isn’t it? No sooner do we Christians gain some insight into where we are getting it wrong than we turn around and castigate those who aren’t as spiritually savvy and politically correct as we are.
Pharisees wear many faces, not all of them right-wing or conservative.
We used to think of modern-day Pharisees as those who are prejudiced against people of other races, or who try to keep women “in their place,” or ignore social justice concerns in favor of protecting their own financial interests.
They were the ones we saw as haters and bigots in their attitude toward homosexuals.
Times have changed.
Today’s finger-pointing, self-righteous proclaimers of “the way things oughta be” are more likely to be proud of their inclusiveness toward all races, their solidarity with feminists, their actions on behalf of the poor, and their tolerance of all lifestyles.
In light of this, take a look at Luke 18:9-14:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
To put Jesus’ parable in contemporary terms, we may hear folks praying this way today:
“God, I thank you that I am not like other “Christians” – haters, bigots, racists, sexists, those who selfishly ignore social justice. I thank you that I am involved in just causes, that I have LGBTQ friends and friends of other races, that I stand with women in their fight for equality, and that I am so loving, inclusive and non-judgmental toward everyone.”
Hmm… self-righteousness on the other side of the issues is still self-righteousness..
And it’s still filthy rags in God’s eyes (Isaiah 64:6).
Note that the tax collector, a member of the most despised group in Jewish culture, displayed humility in his prayer. And Jesus says it was this man that went home justified –not the self-righteous one.
God is not impressed with exterior labels — Pharisee or tax collector, liberal or conservative, privileged or marginalized.
What pleases God is humility.
It’s not by my actions that I am justified—it’s by God’s unmerited favor. It’s not having my act together spiritually or socially, but by a proper self-assessment, which is this:
I’m a sinner blind to my own sin. May God have mercy on me.
And may he have mercy on those we have judged — on either side of the issues.