[Babylon 5]

Nathan Mates' Christian Pages

What you don't see may still happen

Some recent events caused me to go back and rethink a parable of Jesus. It should be a fairly familiar one, comparing a Pharisee to a tax collector. From the NIV translation of Luke 18, here it is:

9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: `God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
13 "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, `God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
14 "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

I know I've used this a lot of times in Bible Studies and other discussions, as well as heard it used in various sermons. The point that I've always heard is that what matters most is quite simply summed up by Jesus in verse 14: praying with a humble and contrite heart is what matters, not flashy prayer.

Fine and nice when applied to ourselves, if we are the one who's actually praying. Problem is, most of us are praying for less than half an hour each day. The rest of the day [which is why the amount of prayer doesn't matter as much, it's fairly small], for 23+ hours, we're going about our business, possibly observing others in Christian activities, such as prayer.

To the first-century Jews listening to Jesus, this was an oddly perplexing story. They could certainly identify with the story-- the Pharisees were no strangers to self-publicity, and took every opportunity to be seen doing outwardly religious things. They saw the Pharisees doing all the stuff that they had been told (by the Pharisees and the rest of the culture) was religious. They didn't stop to notice the tax collector praying off in the shadows. They didn't see the tax collector because their eyes were focused on the outward signs they wanted to see. And Jesus, in his normal style, tells them that their heads are screwed on backwards: the tax collector is truly religious here. Those that they could see doing religious stuff were not getting a reward _because_ they were doing it purely for show.

Are we much better than those first century Jews? Probably not. We like power and status, we like to see folks doing the outward signs of faith, such as lots of prayer, leading Bible studies, training others. We like that because we can say "Person X is doing a good job at Y." And behind others backs, we think or even say "I never see person Z doing anything."

If you ever catch yourself doing so, this is what the little voice in the back of your mind should be shouting at you: "What business do you have judging Z because you never see them doing anything?" If you have determined that Y is a good thing that others should be doing, why not talk to Z directly, instead of assuming the worst? Laziness may make you want to have others do good things, instead of you, or to share the burden.

Only God is omniscient; judging others without knowing the facts, especially other Christians, is just plain stupid and wrong. If you don't know something about someone, it's much simpler to ask them before you say "I never see them doing that, so they must not ever do that."

Nathan Mates

See more Christian writings by Nathan Mates at http://www.matesfamily.org/xtian/index.html