This is a retelling of one of Jesus’ parables from Luke 18 that I told in conjunction with our focus on the “Judge not” passage in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7. My desire was to try and capture the intensity of the story as Jesus would have told it and to find ourselves as those who really need to hear and learn from it. We are most certainly those “who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else” (Luke 18:9)
I shared it this past Sunday. Would welcome any thoughts. I call it a true, fictional story because that is what parables are.
On one particular Sunday morning, at one particular inner-city church, a faithful church member showed up early, as he did every Sunday (for almost 30 years of Sundays), to pray faithfully and earnestly for his church and community. He sat in his normal seat, (which was in the back row, of course) and it seemed to have, over-time, almost formed to his frame. As he continued to pray, he would kneel, the carpet worn and threadbare in the same spot as a result of his faithful and frequent intercession.
Moments later, a local city councilman walked quietly and sheepishly through the main doors of the sanctuary, hoping to not be noticed by a single soul. He was searching for a quiet place, and in many ways he wasn’t even sure why he left his luxury, rehabbed townhouse in the first place. After all, this was not just a councilman. This was the city councilman, or rather that city councilman. Ever since the news broke of scandal and his recent indictment on charges of multiple counts of fraud and bribery, he had just been buying his time. He was out on bail and awaiting his trial, a trial in which he knew a guilty verdict was inevitable; he was going away for a long time. In deciding to go out for an early morning walk, he, somewhat absentmindedly, happened upon this church. He was going to continue on, but something within him compelled to step inside. So, he risked it and, finding the door unlocked, he stepped inside.
As he did, he saw the older gentleman praying in the back row to his left. The councilman tried to ignore the combined looks of recognition and the angry glare which came over the old man’s face, as he continued to mutter his whispered prayers under his breath. Sensing the anger of the older man, the councilman quickly looked away and took the furthest possible spot, on the other side of the sanctuary, in the front pew.
The old church member felt a fire in his gut as he continued to pray, reflecting on what he knew this councilman had done. He began to pray with thanksgiving: thankful that God’s justice had won out over this man’s evil. Thanksgiving for those whose money would be returned as reparations were made. He thanked God for the fact that this old man had never stolen a dime in his whole life. He thanked God that he had never lied under oath, gotten caught up in politics, or made promises he couldn’t keep. He lifted his head from his prayers, glared over at the councilman and said, perhaps even out loud, “Lord, thank you so much that I am not like this corrupt, thieving, no-good politician! He steals from the poor, and has removed people from their neighborhoods, but I serve at the shelter twice a week!”
Meanwhile, the councilman was doubled over, shaking ever so slightly. He held his face in his hands, and quietly wept. He folded his hands so tightly, his knuckles turned white and he couldn’t stop shaking. The only words he could force out were between sobs were, “God, if you really are there, can you ever forgive me for all the wrong I’ve done?” “Will you forgive me?” was all else he could say…
The councilman left, even before the worship service began, and as he did, he left right with God. Though the consequences of his actions still lay ahead, he had the peace of God’s forgiveness. The church member, however, who stayed at church until he shook the very last hand, left thinking that he was right with God, mostly because he had seen someone else who wasn’t, and was glad to not be them. But he was not right with God, merely convinced in his mind that he was right, and many others were quite wrong.