This reading from Luke 18:9-14 seems appropriate during this election season. It also seems appropriate for the many times I see people boast that they are Christians.
Jesus addressed this parable
to those who were convinced of their own righteousness
and despised everyone else.
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —
greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week,
and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;
for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
What exactly is a Christian? Who is a Christian? Anyone who posts it as an identity on their Twitter or Facebook profile? Anyone who watches TV evangelists Sunday mornings? Anyone who occupies a place in a church pew?
There was a time when it took courage to say that you were a Christian. When actual Christians were actually put to death for their faith. Today in America, it’s quite common to be a Christian. But many use their claim to be Christian as a cudgel to “clobber” others, to win ideological arguments, to show that they are better than others. There is even such a thing as cultural Christians, people who don’t attend church but who say they follow the cultural and moral teachings of the Christian faith. They use it as a crutch to feel superior to others while hardly following the word of Jesus the Christ.
Being a Christian is not about how you’re better than others or great simply because you follow Christ. Jesus makes that clear in this reading. Other readings make it clear that the true Christian is a servant of others above all other earthly things. “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” So few in the public square seem to heed this warning. So few in the private square do as well.
If you’re truly a Christian, you listen to the words of Christ.