Thank God I’m not like…
It’s a prayer we probably never actually give voice to, but I’d bet it’s one we say silently all the time. Thank God I’m not homeless like that guy on the street. Thank God I’m not depressed like my sister. Thank God I’m not experiencing the kind of crisis he is. Thank God I’m not as arrogant as my brother-in-law.
There’s a game I like to play even when Luke 18:9-14 isn’t the gospel lesson for Sunday. It’s to say that sort of prayer out loud to see if anyone is listening. I mean it in a South-Park kind of way—as a satirical commentary on how common such a thought is. I was on a mission trip to Honduras with some youth, who were whining a little bit too much about having to get up early and work hard. Almost under my breath, I said, “Thank God I’m not like these Honduran people, who have to work so hard for so little.” One of the more perceptive youth challenged me, saying, “Wait, you can’t say that. Didn’t Jesus say something about that somewhere in the bible?” I just looked at him and shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t know. Did he?”
This gospel lesson should flay us wide open. Every single person in church this Sunday should be staring at his or her shoes when the gospel lesson is read, and first among them should be clergypeople like me. We’re supposed to hear this parable and realize just how much we are the Pharisee. But we won’t. We know that the Pharisees are the bad guys, and we know (of course) that we’re the good guys. We’re on Jesus’ side. He’s not talking about us. If you’re an Episcopalian, you think he’s talking about Baptists. And, if you’re a Baptist, you think he’s talking about members of the Church of Christ. “We’re not hypocrites,” we all say. “He’s not talking about me…Thank God I’m not like those other Christians whom he’s talking about. They could sure benefit from hearing this story.”
It’s us. It’s you. It’s me. It’s everything about the culture we live in. We’re in; you’re out. We’re good; they’re bad. Thank God we’re not like them. Thank God we’re better than that. Guess what. We’re not.