March 8, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
It is good to be home and to be writing. I’m taking the good news today from Mark 2:13-17.
Once again he went out along the sea. All the crowd came to him and he taught them. As he passed by, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners sat with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many who followed him. Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors and said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus heard this and said to them [that], “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines self-righteous as morally upright in one’s own opinion. It is to judge yourself by your own standards, which you consider superior to others’ standards. I heard on the news this morning a statement by Kansas State Representative Allan Rothlisberg regarding a bill barring any employee of an abortion clinic to teach or volunteer in a public classroom, ” We should have people of integrity and morality teaching our children.” Leading into that statement he said, “If they want to do it [volunteer], then they can find another job that would allow them the opportunity to do so.”
This strikes me as the same kind of situation that Jesus encountered. The scribes and Pharisees were self-righteous according to Jesus; they held themselves above everyone else other than the priests and elders. Everyone else — virtually the whole population of Jews — were beneath contempt and unworthy of God’s favor. Of course, the scribes were the ones who developed the interminable regulations based on Mosaic law and who applied them as well. They sat in judgment and naturally found nearly everyone to be sinners, to be breakers of the laws and regulations. Rothlisberg is a great example of the scribes we encounter today — quick to judge and condemn those who don’t follow his standards of morality.
He seems to forget that we are all sinners, although Jesus seems to tell us that the self-righteous are beyond redemption because they are incapable of repentance of their sins as they are not aware of their sinfulness. Jesus is not calling to them because they do not have ears to hear as he tells us elsewhere.
These two scenes were a direct rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees. In their view simply the fact that Jesus associated with sinners — that is, anyone other than their own kind — made him impure. Not only did Jesus call someone whom was considered one of the most reprehensible sinners, he even dined in his home with other sinners. He couldn’t have made it any more plain whom he welcomed and embraced, whom he considered worthy of God’s love and mercy. It is sinners who need God’s forgiveness and love, not the self-righteous.
It is right to stand up for what I believe; it is wrong for me to condemn those who don’t share my beliefs. They are as deserving of God’s forgiveness and love as I am. That’s the message I hear today and, as always, there’s ample opportunity for me to live my life as Jesus teaches me.
Funny that this is your reflection today, Mike. This morning on my way to work, I was asking God to soften my heart towards those who sin against me and others. Although I’ve gotten much better at treating them with kindness and dignity, I still struggle with being judgmental.