Saturday, May 15, 2010
Treating Christianity Like an Alcoholic
"The story of the laborers in the vineyard, for example, is about the owner, not the laborers; the prodigal son is not about the prodigal but about the Father."
- Robert Capon, 'Between Noon and Three', pg. 71
It has occurred to me recently that if I never "improve" as a person it does not matter to God. Well, not in the sense of salvation at any rate. As a follower of the Rabbi I often mentally pit myself against Pharisees and legalists and give them good verbal thrashing whenever possible (on my blog and not in real life).
Truly though the Pharisees were not bad people- in fact they were very good people. They were not (for the most part) hypocritical, they tithed as they should, properly observed the Sabbath, and feared God. We know they did these things by the context of historical documents. Their entire religious system was based upon ones' abilities to do, say, and think the correct thing so they must have done a pretty good job to be at the top of the class.
As we read the Torah, Old Testament, and New Testament we can also infer that prostitutes, tax collectors, pimps, and drunks were not misunderstood, well-intentioned-with-poor-results, misguided souls but genuinely bad people.
However, herein lies the rub: sometimes it is only the people who have hit rock bottom who know they- at the end of the day- control very little. In short, they know humility. In a way that only experience can know something.
When Jesus tells a story of a Pharisee and a tax collector praying in the temple and only the tax collector goes away justified before God, he is telling a story of humility and confession. Today it would be likened to the opening at an AA meeting; "Hello, my name is such-and-such and I am an alcoholic..." Not recovering, not healed, not gilding the lily but who you are at rock bottom.
God only works with rock-bottom cases. There is no place for pride or pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps because you aren't raising yourself from the dead now, are you?
Not long ago- and then I will rest- I heard a friend tell a joke: A pastor died and went to stand before the Pearly Gates. St. Peter said, "Okay, to get in you have to accumulate 100 points for everything you did in your life."
The pastor says, "Well, my wife and I supported a missionary family for 15 years."
"That's good," says St. Peter, "That'll be worth a point."
"You mean one point per year or one point all together?"
"Oh, just one point all together," replies St. Peter.
The pastor begins to get a bit nervous at this news and tries something else, "I worked in the church full-time for 25 years too." He waits.
St. Peter cocks and eyebrow and says, "Ooookkkkaaayyy.... I'll give you one point for that."
"Just ONE again??" The pastor asks, incredulously.
After another 3 hours of this the pastor only has 7.5 points and is really sweating. Just then, coincidentally, sees a member of his parish named Dave walking up. Dave had attended church about half the time because he ran a local grill and bar and had to open on many Sundays.
"Hey, Dave," the pastor mutters, depressed by the situation.
"Hey Pastor, hey St. Peter, how do I get in?" says Dave.
St. Peter hits a button and the gates roll back, and he says, "Just head on in."
In disbelief the pastor watches and asks, "How come he gets to go in? You didn't ask him about any points!"
"Oh, him?" St. Peter glances back, "He wasn't playing this game."
The hardest thing about Jesus is that he forgave us of all of our sins- past, present, and future- the moment we confessed. But daily, we have to "take up our cross and follow" and die to ourselves. Humble ourselves like a bunch of deadbeat, rock-bottom alcoholics and say, "Hello, my name is such-and-such and I am dead and my only life is living in resurrection of Jesus." We may not even get better (which rightly terrifies so many of us) and to demand it, to expect it, to place that as any type of salvation barometer is not the Gospel. That is why it is so wildly dangerous.