Sometimes it is a little too easy to cast the first stone. I have found that to be especially true in parenting. When I feel defeated as a father, I find myself tempted to look for someone who is more defeated so I can use their parenting failures as salve for my own emotions damaged by an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. There is a little, self-righteous voice in my head that whispers to me, “Cheer up! There is bound to be someone struggling more than you.” And sure enough, it seems that I can always find someone that I deem to be a greater failure than I am. “I must be a good parent after all – just like at so and so.”
The truth is that anytime I look down my nose at someone else, I find that I am always looking down the nose of a Pharisee. You remember those guys, right? They’re the ones who are really good at removing dust from their neighbor’s eye while ignoring the stick poking in their own eye.
In Mark 2, Jesus visited the home of Levi, a.k.a. Matthew. Matthew was a tax collector, no doubt someone who had a fair amount of “dust” in his eye. Tax collectors made their living by collecting more than was required from them by the government. If you wanted to live in luxury as a tax collector, well, you just collected more. Needless to say, these were not popular people. And you can be assured that any self-righteous Pharisee felt like a saint next to a tax collector. And as dinner was served at the home, it seemed that a ragtag group of ruffians gathered for the meal. There were other tax collectors. But there was also a group of “sinners” that gathered. When used in this context, “sinner” is a junk-drawer word that included all the scalawags from town. You could feel pretty good looking down your nose at this group.
But not Jesus, he got right in the middle of them – eating, fellowshipping, teaching, perhaps even having a good time. As a Baptist with self-righteous tendencies, when I read passages like this one, I find myself in a pharisaical faith crisis of my own. Would I EVER go into such a gathering? What would people think if they saw their pastor sharing a basket of hot wings with the town scoundrels? What if I actually smiled while in the company of such vile people?
But, as I read the passage again, I noticed a pesky little cross reference that sent me to 1 Timothy 1:15. “This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ – and I am the worst of them.” In other words, I am the tax collector. I am the sinner. I am the scalawag. I am the poor father. I am the lazy husband. I am all that and more.
I am the Pharisee. And so are you.
And more than anything in this world, I need desperately to go into Levi’s house and sit at the table with Christ, along with all my fellow scoundrels. I need, more than anything, to realize that my self-righteousness is like a filthy rag (Isaiah 64:6), and that my only hope is through Jesus Christ. I need to look down my nose at others less, and in humble submission to Christ, put my face on the ground more. Maybe then, I can stop salving my conscience with the failures of fellow sinners – and begin to reflect the image of Christ to my family, and the world.
The Sinner in Chief,