Thank God I am not like other people!
Week of Sunday June 23 – Pentecost 5
Readings: Galatians 3:23-29, Luke 18:9-14
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Let's have an honest conversation about how the world often works. In the Gospel of Luke, we hear a parable from Jesus concerning a pillar of society... and one of the—shall we say—rather less liked members of society.
[Jesus] told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt. [He said,] 10‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector.11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying like this, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. 12I... fast twice a week; I... give a tenth of all my income.”
13But 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!” 14I tell you, [said Jesus, it was] this man [who] 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)
What the Pharisee was doing, was defining himself by his superiority to other people. We do this all the time; sadly, it almost seems to come naturally. "Thank God I am a nice person who lives in Norwood, and not in Elizabeth."(And those of us who do live in Elizabeth say... "Amen to that!")
When I worked in business for a while, I was occasionally asked where I lived. And when I would say "Elizabeth," it would frequently kill the conversation. It was clear that some of the good well-heeled people of the Eastern Suburbs didn't know whether to be sorry for me, or whether to hold their noses! They were embarrassed by their question. Sometimes their reassessment of me, and of my worth, was so obvious they may as well have taken a step backward me!
Well... I have a friend from Elizabeth who was studying in Norwood, and who managed to find a tiny run down cottage which she rents with a group of people. When I was visiting the other day, we were cut off by a BMW and then by a Mercedes, in quick succession. She apologised!!! and then said, "People here are so rude and selfish. They think the world is here for them!"
When we define ourselves as better than others, or by being 'not like others', we blind ourselves to our own faults. In truth, some Elizabeth drivers are just as rude and dangerous as some Norwood drivers, even if we more often do it old bombs instead of BMWs. A police friend once told me she thought the domestic violence is just as vicious in Norwood and Unley as it is in Elizabeth; it just hides behind money and respectability.
We're all the same—just people—but we use our prejudices to excuse our failings. And sometimes we blind ourselves to who we are. It has always been so.
One of the ancient Greek philosophers had "the habit of thanking God for three things: 'that I was born a human and not a beast; a man and not a woman; a Greek and not a Barbarian.'"
There is a Jewish prayer which says "Blessed are you, God, King of the Universe, for not having made me a Gentile... for not having made me a slave... and for not having made me a woman."
These words sound a lot like the reverse of an ancient baptismal liturgy that Paul quotes in his letter to the Galatians.
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
Some scholars think the liturgy was partly a response to that Jewish prayer that I read. Other scholars think a Jewish rabbi wrote the Jewish prayer as a reaction to Paul.
It doesn't matter which is correct. The two statements outline the two ways of being human.
One way of living is to say "Thank God I am not like them..." Every time we judge people, or make a distinction, we are living like that. God forgive us, for churches are often among the worst and most judgemental groups of people when it comes to ignoring the words of Paul and pretending to be superior.
The other way of living is to say that no one is worth more than anyone else. No one is worth less. We are all made equal in the sight of God. We are all loved equally by God. And all the Jewish people I have ever met have treated me with that sort of honour and respect.
When the early Christians were baptised they sometimes said something like
Now you are clothed with Christ. In this place there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
What that means for us is that in this place, here at Hare Street there is no difference. No one is better. No one is more important. There are no favourites.
God is blind. God makes... no distinction. Clever, rich, handsome, classy job, male, sixth generation Australian, latest model Commodore, Council Member, Minister, member here for 40 years, or received into membership two weeks ago; none of this matters to God.
We are one in Christ Jesus. And that is how we are to behave; here and always. Our love of God is shown first—and perhaps it is not too strong to say that, really, our love of God is shown only—by our treating every person who walks through these doors with the same honour, the same respect, and the same generosity as we treat ourselves and the best of our friends; with the same honour, the same respect, and the same generosity as we would show Jesus if he walked through our doors; he does, in each person who comes in.
Otherwise we are standing with the worst of the Pharisees, and praying futile prayers. God save us!
Do we find the source of our life in our relationship with Jesus... or do we seek to live by pretending to be better?
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!