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Today's Pharisee and Publican

Two people went to church to pray, a Pharisee and a Publican. The Pharisee prayed silently, “God, I thank you that I am not a homophobe, a pedophile, a spouse-beater, or a racist. They are truly dirt. I use CFL light bulbs, I recycle, I vote to tax the rich to give more money to the poor, I eat only healthy food, I drive a Prius.”


The Publican was too concerned about her own sins to worry about anyone else’s sin. She was still trying to remove the obstacles in her own eyes. “If it’s sin for my neighbor, if it’s bad for them, it’s bad for me. That’s why I need to firmly draw the line on sin, to rule out all threats to human well-being, for myself first, and then for others.”


Jesus says the Pharisee puts heavy burdens on others that they themselves will not touch with their little finger. I think of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which commanded businesses to make costly changes to their buildings but provided no funding for them to do so. We are commanded to use less fossil fuel, by those who leave carbon footprints the size of the Queen Mary. We are told to “sacrifice” by folks who seem to have designated themselves as the personal recipients of three centuries’ worth of reparations for slavery.


On the other side, we who insist on the unborn child’s right to life sometimes fail to lift a finger to help mother or child in their need. I oppose sexual sin, but what have I done to help the person who moves in with their boyfriend or girlfriend because they have no place to live? As the late Francis Schaeffer pointed out, there’s more than one way to be inhuman.


The conservative wants to tell people what they can and can’t do in their bedrooms: “Don’t create one-flesh unions that you can’t erase, unions that can do great damage to yourself and to the lives of others.” Meanwhile, the progressive wishes to control what light bulbs we use and even what food we eat, what size soda we can drink, and what kind of straws we can’t use, matters that are both trivial and yet more invasive than what the supposed moral prudes try to dictate.


What did Jesus’ apostle say? “Every other sin is outside the body” (food, drink, and tobacco are externals),“but whoever practices sexual sin sins against their own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18)


Do I care about what people put in their bodies? I do, but only to the extent that pornographer Larry Flynt cared about the fact that his friend Reverend Jerry Falwell was killing himself with too much food. But I also care that people mess up both their bodies and souls by misusing God’s gift of sexuality. The question for which I can find no good answers, in both cases, is, “What can I reasonably do about it? Legislating morality rarely works, and warnings are too easy to ignore.”


Can we picture Jesus saying, “I tell you, the child abuser went home reconciled to God, and not the PC Pharisee”? If we find that possibility to be shocking, perhaps we can finally see Jesus’ parable through first century eyes.