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Don't Judge.

The parable we'll hear this Sunday was told to people who were self-righteous and who have contempt for others.  

Or to bring it home, the parable we'll hear on Sunday was told to that part in each of us that is self-righteous and tends to be contempteous.  

The parable goes like this: Two men went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other one was a tax collector. The Pharisee prayed like this: "God, I thank you that I am not like other people: extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I tithe."

Stop right there and consider something: What this man said was probably true:
  • Pharisees did hold themselves to very high moral standards.
  • This man probably did not extort money from other people.
  • He probably was just in his dealings with others.
  • He probably was faithful to his wife.
  • He probably did fast twice a week.
  • He probably did return his pledge card on time <grin> and
  • He probably did tithe a full ten percent of his income.
 And he certainly was not a tax collector.

You think people resent paying taxes now? In Jesus' day, the Jewish people were basically paying the occupying government forces to persecute them. And to make matters worse, there was no fixed tax rate - tax collectors were paid a percentage or commission on whatever they could collect from whomever, and so they used their authority to confiscate as much of your money as they could, sending part of it to the despised government and keeping part of it to increase their own wealth.

So the Pharisee is no tax collector, that's true.

Return to the story: there you have a Pharisee, an outstanding citizen and husband, standing there thanking God he isn't anything like that tax collector.  

And over there you have the tax collector, standing far off, who won't even dare lift his eyes to heaven. He is beating his breast, saying, "God be merciful to me, a sinner!"

Which of these two leaves "church" (this encounter with God) and goes back home justified, which means exonerated, "made right" with God? Which of the two is God happy with?

The immoral, corrupt tax collector, that's who.

Who goes back home in poor sorts, unpardoned, out of right relationship with God? Who is God unhappy with?

The moral, honorable Pharisee, that's who.

Look at what the writer Oswald Chambers has to say about this passage:

"Jesus' instructions with regard to judging others is very simply put; He says, Don't." And yet the average Christian is the most piercingly critical individual known. Criticism is a [normal human activity], but in the spiritual realm, nothing is accomplished by it. ... The Holy Spirit is the only one in the proper position to criticize, and He alone is able to show what is wrong without hurting and wounding. It is impossible to enter into fellowship with God when you are in a critical mood. Criticism serves to make you harsh, vindictive, and cruel, and leaves you with the soothing and flattering idea that you are somehow superior to others."

If you read the gospels and don't just depend on what other people say are in the gospels, you will find that what drove Jesus up the wall was NOT our sins - our immorality, our lying and cheating and adulteries and greed - Jesus ate and drank with those who sinned in every one of those categories, and was nothing but tender and forgiving to them. No, what drove Jesus up the wall was the harsh, judgmental, finger-pointing, and elitist attitudes of religious people.

(If you are thinking to yourself right now, "yeah! I hate that in religious people!" are spectacularly missing the point...)

Jesus wants us to NOT judge other people.

And here's where it gets really interesting: as Rev. Cathy will unpack in her sermon at The Falls Church Episcopal on Sunday, what if you were to apply this same generosity of non-judgmental attitudes to yourself ? What if we practiced mercy and kindness and compassion with the one we tend to be harshest on: our own self? What impact would "being made right with God" internally -- at Peace, deeply at peace -- then have on your ability to be more compassionate regarding the failings of others? 


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