The Story of the Tax Man and the Pharisee
He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people:
“Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this:
‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’
“Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’”
Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”
– Peterson, Eugene H.. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language
Genuine Goodness, Morality, Civic Values and Politics
There’s nothing like presidential campaign politics that brings out the best and the worst manifestations of assumed moral values found to the left and right of the voting public.
“Polarized” seems to be the most frequently used description of what passes for civic discourse in America. We cannot deny that as citizens we are not united in our most important views. When the smoke and flames from the shock and awe of election campaign rhetoric dissipate, we are dosed with a wide range of candidate declarations, news and commentary sources as well as voices of our fellow citizen-voters suggesting that most powerful determining factor seems to be moral values.
On the surface, we are faced with the notion that an assumed majority (left or right) of this country – possesses higher values of morality that matter most. Speeches, donation request, debate and stump speeches rebuke a presumed minority that apparently does not equate morale values in the same way.
On the surface those who do not vote with the “morale majority” are left to consider their ways, their values and their lifestyles as having been condemned or deemed “unrighteous.”
Both conservative and liberal citizens willing to speak up have been put on notice that their disagreement with opposing political and religious values will not be as tolerated as it has in the past. Each side more than once has declared that they have been especially offended for a long time and “enough is enough.”
Tempers flare, angry words are written, spoken and broadcast reveal resentment- a humorless resentment on both sides that indicates how powerfully offended each voting block has been by the criticisms, satire, sarcastic humor and open political attacks on the values each holds dear.
It appears that many of us were blind to this and sorely underestimated the depth of that resentment. Decades of stand-up comedy that ridiculed the religious in the country is an example of what has been simmering for a long time – an offended-ness that has finally boiled over. Comedians have always had their best success when they cause us to laugh at ourselves. An ignorant assumption that everything about our society was therefore “fair game” has resulted in a long-festering and simmering resentment of having one’s most cherished values belittled publicly. There are things that are flat-out just not funny.
We live among so-called devout Christians, many of whom demonstrate an almost blind willingness to ignore any detailed examination or critique of darling candidates. That blind willingness has coupled itself with an unforgiving desire for social vindication of fundamental religious tenets. The result is self-proclaimed disciples of Jesus who at the same time are refusing a repudiation of irresponsible, disrespectful and diminishing behavior on the part of our political figures.
We are then left with the circumstance of today in which one segment of our society has risen in righteous rage to rebuke the other offending segment. Things ARE that black and white in this country right now.
It is my desire to speak up about morality from a standpoint other than that of theological definitions of right-versus-wrong, who is and is not hell-bound, who is and is not “worthy” and who is and is not “other” and therefore deserving of religious disdain, disrespect, deliberate discrimination and destruction.
Christianity must absolutely rise above polarization regarding discriminatory and self-righteous value judgments that render innocent and undeserving human beings as somehow less-than the rest.
Today, liberal organizations, liberal Churches and liberal Christians seem to have been given the word that there is a more fundamental degree of righteousness that matters beyond the basic fundamental concepts of Christ. Driven by radical Christian political power-mongers, whether intentionally or not, there seem to be voters who refuse to see the reality of the direction in which those power mongers want to take our nation.
Voting against gays, abortion, evolution and in blind support of posturing Christians in Congress is the easiest and laziest moral choice voters will have to make. Moral choices will only become more difficult as time moves on. The absolute honest truth is that speaker-outers on both sides need to stand up for goodness for the sake of goodness
and not the shallow rhetoric of “Who’s on the Lord’s side?”
We must assume an equal responsibility for all that America – a nation populated by a Christian majority – has done in the past in the name of God and will do in the future.
An honest person realizes the implications of all convictions. Any who proclaim moral values absolutely must address personally and publicly – when they speak out – how our nation reconciles its thinking with the broader array of traditional Christian values.
On the Poor
Is it Christian to help the rich get richer at the expense of the poor?
Jesus teaches generosity to the poor and that we should not refuse “him who would borrow from you.”
Jesus taught us to look constantly for ways to give. “You received without paying, give without pay.”
Jesus taught us not to be focused on wealth, money and the desire for more and more of at the expense of all else – particularly the poor.
Unlike some radical Christians who have declared the belief these days, Jesus did not say wealth and prosperity was equal to righteousness while the poor deserve their lot,
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, `If any one swears by the temple, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred?“
Jesus spoke against corruption and greed in government.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. “
Jesus condemned caring for only the “worthy poor.” The Levite (supposedly a righteous priest, minister or preacher), walked around the wounded victim on the highway telling himself,
“My morale values are not your morale values. Actually your morale values make you unworthy of my charity.”
The Samaritan, on the other hand, simply said, “Here, let me help you and take care of you.”
Jesus said “Go and do likewise.”
Jesus warned those who deliberately or casually ignore the poor and suffering.
“There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom.”
Jesus did not say that the health and well-being of children can be ignored.
“Whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal.”
Jesus did not teach that we should obsess on consuming.
“If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
On Economics, Government and Taxes
Jesus did not say that anyone -including the merchant class – is exempt or should not pay taxes.
“Show me the money for the tax. Whose likeness and inscription is this? Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Jesus taught total respect for the working man, employment and job security.
“The laborer deserves his food.”
Jesus condemned rulers who impose unfair burdens on the people.
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.“
On Capitalism and other “isms”
Jesus condemned the political, economic and philosophic ideology of men.
“You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men. You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition!”
The meek inherit the earth. Jesus said to
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”
Those persecuted for righteousness’ sake own the kingdom of God.
What then regarding those who persecute?
Despite preachers who call on the government to blow them away in the name of the Lord,
There is no such thing anytime anywhere as killing for Christ.
The merciful obtain mercy. The Sermon on the Mount speaks against basing the need to “search and destroy” evil as an act of revenge. Jesus taught that mercy is more desirable than sacrifice.
Christians must always be ready to ask, “Am I willing to sacrifice the sons and daughters of this nation in support of a war that has not been justified, or for an act based purely on revenge?”
Jesus said that collateral damage is unthinkable and against the wisdom of God.
“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.“
On Capital Punishment
Jesus did not authorize capital punishment in any form. Those who would kill are insufficiently perfect to take upon themselves that right.
“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Jesus repudiated killing in His name and invoking war to spread freedom. If the Bible is God’s word to the world, then Jesus’ words are not meant just for Christians, but for every soul on earth and here is what he said:
“I have said all this to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues; indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father, or me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you of them.”
Peacemakers shall be called sons of God. Anger and insult are serious weaknesses.
Whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to judgment and hell fire equal to the sin of killing.
Jesus repudiated war presidents.
“Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
Jesus spoke against using war to force peace. When he spoke the following words, He could have spoken directly to what is unfolding and growing in the Middle East with our military loved ones right now:
“Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
On Deception and False Witness
Jesus affirmed that bearing false witness is sin. Today our most recent and intense foreign policy adventure was initiated on deceit. The election campaign is full of exaggeration if not outright deceit based on fear-mongering on both sides.
Jesus said that we are accountable for everything we say, vow or promise and that our words will either justify or condemn us.
“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.”
Jesus taught that wisdom is equal with innocence. Conniving, secrecy and manipulation are not Christian virtues.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”
“A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep.”
“I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
Jesus declared that those who lead must know what they are doing and be clean about it.
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. “
On Public Piety and Moral Values
Jesus said to beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them and that you do not force religion on anyone. Hypocrites make a public clamor of their own righteousness.
“When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”
“They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men.”
Jesus did not say that we should distract ourselves by focusing on one or two issues at the expense of our overall well-being. He did not say that Christianity would rise or fall over abortion and gay-marriage.
“You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!“
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity. You blind Pharisee! First cleanse the inside of the cup and of the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. “
Jesus taught that since we do not judge we do not determine who will go to heaven and who will burn in hell.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in.”
We are in no position to declare that a gay person or couple who adopt a child and raise that child with love and honor will not go to heaven. Jesus spoke against hubris and the art of being holier-than-thou.
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself,
`God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up 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 every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Jesus did not consider the brother of the Prodigal Son more righteous, deserving or worthy in the sight of God than the Prodigal himself The Father recognized the older brother’s goodly life but then corrected his hubris:
“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”
On Personal Religion
Jesus said that personal religious practice is done almost entirely privately.
“Give alms in secret and when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Jesus taught us to forgive, forgive and forgive; to not be judgmental. It is not our job to point or condemn.
“Judge not, that you be not judged.” “Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”
On Christian Virtues
Jesus openly and bluntly told us of the most important virtues:
“You shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with your entire mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”
Jesus said that He was the Truth, the Way and the Life. His is the pattern and that pattern is a life of seeking active goodness and not blind obedience and aggressive evangelizing by force. Christian evangelizing is not the “more-than’s” proselytizing the “less-than’s.” The Condescension of God is not the same thing as the condescending smugness of the 700 club.
“Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
On Poor use of scripture
Jesus did not teach us to take the Bible literally and try to apply ancient verses literally to solve contemporary problems.
Jesus did teach that religion is personal and manifests itself in acts and not blind obedience to words.
“You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from men. But I know that you have not the love of God within you. How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”
As the highest morale value of all, Jesus proclaimed love, not piety, not righteousness, not being born again, not being saved and not accepting Him as a personal savior.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
“If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.”
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. This I command you, to love one another.”
On Jesus still being found in today’s world
And Jesus said to His Father
“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.”
On Jesus and Isaiah
The path of Jesus is there in the holiness of scripture:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me”
I have not been called to join a church or be validated by the formality of an organized sect. God, the Eternal Father in Heaven communes with me. His spirit lives in me always. Father has called me and invigorates me through the Spirit. I and the Father are one. And so are each of you.
“He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.”
Our Father is the God of Compassion. The poor are numerous and their poverty is not only a want of bread, but a poverty of spirit. Yet theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. The gospel is a living practice of the life of compassion, concern, kindness and advocacy on behalf of the poor. I am not called to get the poor to join churches, but to love the poor as I myself love the Father.
“He hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted.”
Those who mourn will be comforted. The meek will inherit the earth. He hath not sent me to say ‘Be of good cheer, say your prayers, and God will bless you.’ He hath not sent me to say ‘Take upon yourself my name and declare that I am your redeemer and all will go well with you.’ He hath sent me to cheer the brokenhearted with my own strength and spirit, pray for the brokenhearted as I pray for my own broken-heartedness. He hath sent me to bring the brokenhearted into my own circle of prayer and bless them by deed more than word.
“To preach deliverance to the captives.”
Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled. The merciful will be shown mercy. He hath sent me to teach the captives about their freedom and to work with them to attain freedom. He hath sent me to place less value on my own riches and comfort and a greater worth on acts of goodness for the sake of goodness. He hath not called me to stand in a church, speak from a book, condemn from the pulpit and retire to my mansion.
“And recovering sight to the blind”
He hath not called me to say, ‘Lo, come to my chapel and be saved,’ but to send me out of my chapel and into the darkness with a light of compassion and action. Where there is blindness, I come to teach vision, a life led by the Spirit, and knowledge of the God of Compassion. I come to urge repentance to wholeness in an absence of blind guilt, sorrow and a sense of condemnation at the hands of those who deem themselves righteous rather than upright.
“To set at liberty them that are bruised.”
The pure in heart will see God. Peacemakers will be called the sons of God. And the persecuted? Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. He hath not called me to inflict fear, shame nor guilt, but to bandage wounds, pour on oil and wine and carry to the inn and pay from my own sources for the ministrations of healing.
“To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”
A time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven. The acceptable year of the Lord is every year, every month, every week, every day as God and Heaven are a living part of every moment.
The Christ Path is a Path of Action and Impact.
It is impervious to whether or not we are deemed good or righteous by others. It is the path that does not seek outward recognition, but personal and private satisfaction in the pursuit of goodness.
It is that Spirit of Life that will cause the God of Compassion to reward openly.
The oldest Christianity is that which came to flower in the beginning before the confusion of men led to misconceptions about church and belonging; before priests and popes took it upon themselves to tell God what to do and the people how to behave; before preachers built churches after the fashion of courthouses where they could throw the book at the congregation.
On The End Times and Rapture
Jesus did not say that the End Times will happen according to faulty and imaginary interpretations of scripture that somehow require that Christians take over the world so He could return in glory.
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
“Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
But he did say very clearly what he would do when He does come:
“Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”
Then he will say to those at his left hand who had not attended the least of his brethren, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”