Jesus told a parable for folks who figured they were righteous and looked down on other people: “A Pharisee and a tax collector walked into the temple to pray…”
Jesus’ listeners expect the tax collector to be horrible, completely out of touch with God. The Pharisee, expert in Jewish law and piety, should be the righteous one. Yet, the moral of Jesus’ story shows just the opposite. Instead of his own relationship with God, the Pharisee focuses on judging the actions of others. The Pharisee’s pride blocks him from learning from the tax collector, who is praying,
“Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Today it’s hard to relate with Jesus’ radical move of making the tax collector the good example. To understand, we must recognize whom our society construes as enemies. During election season, this is easy to do. Listen to the debates, watch or read the news; voters are constantly told that many groups of people are enemies. One such group is Muslim people.
While Christians and Muslims don’t visit the same temple, as the Pharisee and tax collector did, we share many roots and values – stories of Abraham, the Psalms, love for Jesus, commitment to care for the poor, understanding God as merciful; and the word muslim means one who submits. Their name evokes the humility demonstrated in the tax collector.
A Christian and a Muslim walk through a busy city square on their lunch break. They pass a noisy bar. They see a young woman walk into Planned Parenthood. Just then the Mosque a few streets over sounds the call to prayer. Without taking another step, the Muslim unrolls a mat, kneels, and prays, in the middle of the busy square. The Christian also stops what they’re doing, looks upward, and wonders, “O God, what is becoming of the world!? People get drunk in the middle of the day, abortion is available on demand, and radical Muslims are taking over! I’m so glad I’m not like these people, especially not like this Muslim!”
The things that trouble the Christian are not universally acceptable, but they miss some things while passing judgments:
Inside the bar some college students have Bible study in a place where they feel at ease talking about Jesus and the struggles of being Christian in college. The woman at Planned Parenthood was attending a class about her reproductive health. The Muslim person practices prayer and fasting that would inspire any Christian, and when they rise from prayer, they will offer to share lunch with the homeless person they pass on the corner because of their deep commitment to care for the poor.
Our politics thrive on the characters of this parable being enemies. During elections, our lives are defined in “us vs. them” terms. If one group gains freedoms, another loses.
As Christians, we don’t see things that way, and our humility should show it. During a record election in hate-speech, Christian humility should be noticeable. While some get into shouting matches defining their enemies, we seek opportunities to listen patiently and respond with love. Instead of judging people different from ourselves, we strive to learn something from them. Humility is what is required for the Pharisee to learn something from the tax collector, but it is much easier for us to go on declaring ourselves right(eous), than to step into the unknown.
Will we dare to be humble?