Project August: Day 24 – A Little Christian Theology

Let us speak a little today of theology. Yes, theology, more specifically Christian theology, is part of my interests too. I know, I know. Christianity, libertarianism and D/s is an odd trio of things to blog about. But I do it anyway, ignorer of ordinary that I am. Today’s topic for Project August is the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

First, the parable.

Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
—Luke 18:9–14 (NKJV)

And now, a quote from the post to which I am responding. 

I can see this nowadays at several levels.  Among the churches there are some prosperous and busy ones, that attract a lot of new and possibly younger people each week.  They imagine that they are better Christians than others; they look down on small struggling churches and think that they should perhaps give up.  But those little churches with smaller (and often older) congregations are still praying and doing what they can for the community around them, and are devoted to our Lord Jesus Christ, and being faithful in their witness.  Who will be justified?   It is up to God and not us to judge them.

At another level, in society there are the well-off in secure well-paid jobs who can look down on those struggling at the bottom of the financial heap.  The well-heeled could help the needy – but do they?  Do they all pay their fair share of taxes, and give generously to charity?  And then there are couples where the possible wage-earner is trying to get a job, or a better one that will provide for his family.  He (or she) is a good person trying to do his best and live a good life.  He may have a faith, or he may have lost (or never had) it, in the struggle that is his life.  But God knows what is in his heart and He does not judge as the world does.

I am providing the url but not a link, out of respect for the other site, whose author may be upset by what I am about to say and the kinkier parts of this site.

I am sure that Helen Hopkins is a nice person with good intentions. But her application of the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is just about as wrong as it could be.

The debater in me wants to know where she gets her evidence that large churches look down on small ones or think they are better Christians than those folks of smaller churches. And when she asks if the wealthy help the needy, if they pay their fair share of taxes, and if they give generously to charity, my answer is: yes, they pretty much do.

But those things are not the point of the parable. The tax collector of New Testament times probably was the wealthy one. But notice that Jesus did not mention wealth in comparing the tax collector and the Pharisee. What does He mention? The Pharisee, the pious religious man, stands in the temple and talks about how he is better than other men. The tax collector, the socially despised man, stands in the temple and beats his chest and pleads for God’s mercy.

So does looking down on wealthy people as less righteous than us—not even for what they actually do or do not but what we enviously choose to believe they do not do—seem like the lesson we should take away from the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector? I would say it is not.

When we choose to disdain others for not acting as righteously or piously as we think we act, we are in the Pharisee’s place, exalting ourselves as better than those we disdain. When we instead look to our own faults and feel remorse and beg God for mercy, then we are in the place of the tax collector, humbling ourselves. And make no mistake, when we say to ourselves, “Those people I do not like are haughty and they look down on other people; God will judge them,” we are being haughty and looking down on those other people.

So am I judging Helen Hopkins? I hope not. As I said, I am sure she is a nice person, and has good intentions. I do not take issue with her. I do not even know her. I only take issue what what she said. And I think what she said is wrong.

Humility comes not from noticing what others do or do not do, but from noticing what we ourselves have done or not done. There is a difference between living one’s life to be an example to others, and living one’s life to be seen by others. There is a difference between saying, “God have mercy on me,” and saying “Thank You, God, that I am not like those bad people.” There is a difference between being humble and being humbled. The pride that goes before a fall comes from not being aware of one’s own failings.

Jesus often made a point of telling people to look after their own spiritual walk and not to worry about what others are doing. Multiple times the disciples bickered about which among them would be known as the greatest. Jesus told them they were thinking backwards. He told them to be servants, to be humble, and not to try to be great in the eyes of others. When the legal expert came to Jesus and asked who his neighbor was (as in “love your neighbor as yourself”), Jesus told him a parable wherein a Samaritan, someone of an apostate faith, was the one who treated someone as a neighbor (the parable of the Good Samaritan). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of not judging another with a speck in his eye when one has a plank in one’s own eye.

In other words, the individual’s spiritual responsibility is to take care of his or her own spirituality, not to look for the flaws in others. The individual’s spiritual responsibility is humble obedience to God, not to try to make oneself better than other people. That is the lesson of the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

I hope this venture into Christian theology has not run anyone off. Do not worry. I am not going to be proselytizing for Christianity here any time soon. That is not the goal of this blog.  But I am going to talk about theology stuff from time to time.

Today may be Saturday, but I have to get back to work. I am not sure when I will get time to post tomorrow. You will just have to come back and see if I do.

9 Responses to “Project August: Day 24 – A Little Christian Theology”

  1. “There is a difference between living one’s life to be an example to others, and living one’s life to be seen by others. ” …. Yes!!

  2. a_girls_journey Says:

    Human’s being the complex lot that they are… or is it complicated, this one never knows… in any case, for me personally – I am extremely humbled, and do the “right thing” with or without an audience, for the most part. However, there are *other* times, when I am judgemental of others, intolerant of their differences. I am sometimes aware of it, once it leaves my mouth – and i’m also fortunate to have a girlfriend who is “horrified” at my non “live and let live” opinions.

    It’s quite fascinating in it’s (complexity?).

    On the one hand, I love helping others for their benefit, not mine. I don’t care if it’s rewarded or appreciated in some way – although if the person was a downright ******* this one wouldn’t be so … helpful, perhaps (it would entirely depend on the circumstances). Anyway, i digress. And then I have this horrible judgemental “I’m better than you” side too….

    Is it just my ignorance in terms of not tolerating others differences, and rapidly saying – wow that is SO uncool of them?? They should be more like me? Ugh! How downright conceited of me! lol

    You’ve given me food for thought – will have to really work on this fault… thank you, Sir.

  3. Serendipity1972 Says:

    You can’t judge others because everybody has reasons for the way they are, examples may include a bully who really is a coward because own self esteem issues. A defensive person because of lack of self confidence. This is the spiritual journey.

    I have found that as I have learnt to except the flaws in myself and see them for what they are and except why they are there and forgive myself (and any others that may of contributed to my flaws), this has made it easier for me to not judge others and to except them too and to move on.

    I don’t think this life is very easy for anyone regardless of wealth, we all have our struggles. We need these to learn and I think one way of making all our lives easier is to seek to understand and forgive ourselves and each other.

    • Hi, Serendipity

      You’re right… we can’t possibly know, let alone understand, the motives behind other people’s behaviour… and I’m trying to understand… it’s easier said than done.

      I find that *if* i can relate, I can tolerate. That’s easy, tho, isn’t it? So, yes, i’ve got a bit of growing to do in this realm.

      That said, I can be tolerant of differences at times, it just depends on the scenario. But, yes… ideally I should adopt my friend’s stance… “live and let live” Judge not, lest ye be judged!!


      • Apologies, I need to recycle my typist!

        What i *meant* to say was, I’m trying to be more tolerant… it’s easier said…

        Understanding comes much later, if ever… if we’re talking about understanding people’s differences.

  4. Serendipity1972 Says:

    Oh and I also think spirituality, freedom and D/s link up nicely. In my mind anyway.

  5. Great point! That verse has nothing to do with wealthy vs. poor, but many go there with that interpretation because it sounds like what a righteous person would say. Judging anyone by what they have or do not have is discrimination. I am in contact with the wealthy and the homeless nearly every single day. I have seen the good and bad in both groups; extreme generosity and outright selfishness. However, the selfishness in both groups share the same entitlement mentality. A person’s character is known by the fruit they bear and has nothing to do with achieving any kind of status economically, socially, religiously, or spiritually. It’s your heart and what you do when no one is looking that matters. If someone notices your kindness or generosity it should never be because you were trying to make a show of it.

  6. Very well said, Sir. And I too think that D/s and Spirituality work well together – just read Ephesians 5 and Song of Solomon! 🙂

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