A MODERN-DAY PHARISEE?
“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.' ” Luke 18: 13 (NIV)
I recoiled a bit as a claw-like hand suddenly reached out of a doorway. Its owner reeked with the odor of cheap alcohol and unwashed body and clothes. He was also badly in need of a shave. He unsteadily followed me with an outstretched hand while he muttered what sounded like any of several languages but his gesture spoke clearly of his desire for a monetary offering. I withdrew a bit and quite loudly proclaimed, “Why don’t you get your act together?” In an undertone he lisped some remark that surely was not an expression of gratitude for my offered advice.
Later as I reflected on the encounter, the parable of “The Pharisee and Tax Collector” came to mind. Further, I recognized that my adversary probably emerged from the engagement much better than I. At least he did not try to deny who or what he was, whereas, I, the offended one, surely did not reflect much Christian love and concern. Indeed, in my dealing with him I was more like the self-righteous Pharisee than the humble tax collector.
As I pondered the situation I emerged with the uncomfortable thought how often not only I, but also other members of our society, blame others for their conditions. Sometimes we blame women for being raped or beaten, wondering whether she really was a victim or why she didn’t do something about her situation. We tend to blame the poor for being unkempt and underfed, but what are we dong to alleviate their situation? We blame the idle or unemployed for not having a decent job and not trying to get ahead, but do we try to understand their plight? It is easy to forget that all of us are in need of God’s merciful love even though we might not be fully aware of it.
The words of Dwight Moody uttered when viewing an alcoholic stumble and curse, “There but for the grace of God, go I,” came to mind in regard to my encounter with the inebriated soul. Whereas, one of the first thought that came to my mind was, “ Thank God, Lord, that I am not like that”, was a painful echo of the words of the Pharisee in the parable. How more Christian it would be to reaffirm the plea of the tax collector, “God, have mercy on us, a sinner,” and reaffirm that we are all in need of His grace.
Although God does not blame any of us for being imperfect, He does ask us to not judge one another and to embrace our own call to healing and wholeness and to promote that process in others. I pray in my next such encounter with His help; I will show more compassion than criticism and will reflect those of the humble tax collector rather the righteous Pharisee. Amen.