Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday Reflection

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. . . (Hebrews 12:1-2b)

Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)

I worry about how the large and diverse category of people commonly known as “evangelicals” are perceived by the larger world. At its heart, the word evangelical describes a value placed on the proclamation and demonstration of the good news of the kingdom of God (the word evangelical comes from a Greek word that means good news).

Too often, however, the perception is of bad news rather than of good.

When a body of people is perceived to be characterized by power (as in being viewed as a block of voters that dare not be crossed by politicians) and protest (as in being against many things such as Muslims, gays and lesbians, liberals, and so on), then the characterization is different than being the people of God for the sake of the world.

Jesus claims that humility is to be valued over power and self-righteousness. The parable suggests that the Pharisee had a false perception of himself, but the tax collector (not a popular figure in first-century Jewish culture) saw himself clearly. It was in this painful clarity of sight that he entered into humility.

Could it be that “the sin that clings so closely” includes redefining what it means to follow Jesus, and turning that new life into something that God never intended? Could it be that we’ve lost our way? Have we traded humility for power, and blessing for protest?

Can we really experience holiness without pursuing peace with everyone?

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