He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
It is amazing how polarized our country has gotten. People make blanket statements about other people all the time. They say things to disparage each other, they treat other people with contempt because they have different affiliations. And I think we are all guilty of that. I know I have been guilty of it. It makes me sad to see and hear in the news and from the people around me saying things like, “Those people don’t deserve…” or, “They are just misguided or stupid.” And I need to catch myself sometimes and realize that the more we highlight the differences between each other, the more we need to realize that we have far more in common than we usually are willing to acknowledge.
Worse than that, it’s literally sinful. In fact, I would argue that setting aside another group of people for any reason and making the case that you are better than them is the primary definition of sin. Jesus said that all the law can be summed up simply in this way, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s it. That’s all you have to do to not sin. Easy, right? No, it’s hard and we struggle every day to treat our neighbor with respect every day. Oh maybe we do well enough with our actual physical neighbors but what about those who are most different from us? How do we demonstrate love for our neighbors in our words and actions when that pertains to all people in the world? How do we treat our Muslim neighbor? Our conservative neighbor? Our Liberal neighbor? Our immigrant neighbor? Our neighbor who is a person of color? Our gun owning neighbor? Our neighbor who is Gay or Lesbian? Our neighbor who is Transgender? Do we say things to demean any of those groups, to imply that we are better than them, that we know better than them? That we are smarter or better than them in some way because of that way they are defined? That is sin. Period. Because we are not better.
This is why I love the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector. It wasn’t that anything the Pharisee said about his faith life was wrong, in fact, he does a pretty amazing job at giving his time and money to the church. But he failed only at the point that he opened his mouth and compared himself to the tax collector and said how much better he was than him. In God’s eyes we are ALL loved and given grace beyond measure. We are ALL his beautiful creations. Even the people we hate. Especially the people we hate. We are all the same. And, in a paradoxical way we are all different.
Just because I have a gay friend who is kind and compassionate does not mean that all gay people are that way, for instance. Just because someone happens to be fairly liberal does not mean they don’t own guns and support the second amendment. Just as God loves all of us the same, we need to remember that we are also all unique and loved for our uniqueness. We need to stop associating broad discriminating words with groups of people, which is generally wrong anyway, like all Muslims are terrorists or all immigrants are criminals. I hear that sort of language every day and it is hurtful, wrong, and at its very core, sinful.
Instead, let's love people for who they are, the many facets of who they are. I can love people who vote differently than I do because how we vote is actually a very small part of who we are. Just like our skin color, who we love, how we worship, and many other things that we use to divide us…really are small parts of the bigger picture of our own special individuality. So all we can do is to get to know and to understand the individual. The person. Treat each person the same, because they are equally loved and claimed by God. We are to treat each person with that same love, to get excited about the amazing and unique person each one of them are. I have often been surprised at how much I have learned from people who are the most different from me if I just give it a chance. We are all the same and that is a blessing and gift from God. We are all different and that is a blessing and gift from God as well.