Sunday, February 5, 2012

What's Wrong with That?

At church this morning, the Pastor Emeritus spoke to us, since our regular pastor is still in Israel. The Pastor Emeritus spoke to us about Jesus’ parables.

There were two parables that stood out to me. The first was the one in Luke 12:15-21 about the rich man who had a surplus of crops and resolved to store his surplus in bigger barns and to take it easy. God then took his life that night because he was not rich towards God. The Pastor Emeritus asked his grandson about how we can be rich towards God, and the grandson replied that we can do so by doing the right thing.

The second was the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican in Luke 18:9-14. In this parable, the Pharisee brags to God about his own righteousness, whereas the publican beats himself on the chest and confesses to be a sinner. Jesus says that the publican went home justified, whereas the Pharisee did not. What intrigued me was that the Pastor Emeritus was highlighting how the Pharisee was doing good things: the Pharisee was not extorting people, he was trying to be fair, etc. As the Pastor Emeritus noted, the Pharisee probably had to struggle against temptations while he was attempting to live so righteous of a life. And yet, the Pharisee’s prayer was faulty because he was focusing on himself rather than God. The Pastor Emeritus’ comments stood out to me because Christians often stereotype the Pharisees as being more concerned about rituals than morality, and the Pastor Emeritus was showing that there was a solid moral component to the Pharisee’s righteousness.

I’ve heard these parables numerous times. My reaction going through my head when I heard them this morning was “What’s wrong with that?” What’s wrong with the rich man storing his grain, kicking back, and taking it easy for the rest of his life? I’d love to arrive at that sort of economic security! What’s wrong with the Pharisee congratulating himself for doing the right thing, or thanking God that he was doing the right thing? Are we never allowed to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done? Must we always be beating ourselves up for our inadequacies?

Regarding the rich man, my mind turned to how the rich man had a limited vision. What is the point of earning a lot of money, if you are not trying to do the right thing—-if you are exploiting or hurting the poor, if you are not trying to help others, or if your vision is limited to yourself and your own prosperity, as opposed to looking at something broader than that? I thought that even an atheist could be rich towards God by doing the right thing. But then the pastor was talking about how the Pharisee was not rich towards God, even though the Pharisee had done good things for his fellow human beings, for the Pharisee was not focusing on God. And yet, I’d say that even an atheist can look at the Pharisee’s attitude in the parable and consider it to be far from admirable. For one, people should not think that they are better than others. And second, people should help others because it’s the right thing to do, not in order to pat oneself on the back. Justice is good for society, and we should be just towards others because we would not like for others to be unjust towards us.

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