Friday, June 7, 2013

Ordinary Time - a reflection on solidarity

[Jesus] 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)

This story that Jesus tells is usually seen as one that contrasts legalism and humility, and clearly that contrast is evident. But I’m seeing something in addition to that as I read this text on this morning in Ordinary Time.

I’m seeing solidarity.

The Pharisee has separated himself (“standing by himself”) from others in the Temple. He sees himself as one who is not part of the gathering of people in this Jewish place of worship (“I thank you that I am not like other people”). He does all the right things and he is not to be counted among the sinners, or so he thinks.

The tax collector also seems to be standing alone, but out of shame rather than out of arrogance. He addresses the reality of his life to God, and Jesus claims that the man goes to his home as one who is “justified”—a man changed from unrighteousness to righteousness, one who has been made right with God.

Jesus says that the Pharisee, however, did not find justification. The man claimed to be separate from his list of sinners, but he was wrong—he was one of them. In physically and legalistically isolating himself from those he believed stood outside of God’s favor, he had failed to realize that he, too, had missed the mark. He was actually standing in solidarity with those he had condemned.

Recognizing that solidarity allowed the tax collector to see himself honestly and cast himself before God’s grace and mercy, leaving the Temple as one who had been embraced by God. But he would still understand the truth about himself and his complicity with the rest of the world.

I think a lot these days about the issues that deeply impact and divide both the US church and the nation in general—issues like same-sex marriage and immigration reform. I wonder how the conversations would change if we in the church started, not with our own righteousness and justification, assuming that because we are heterosexual or because we enjoy citizenship because of an accident of birth, but with honest confession before God, that we are sinners on our knees before our merciful God.

It might be even better to do that while kneeling next to a gay couple and an undocumented worker and her family.

God, be merciful to me, a sinner.

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