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The Forgotten Parable for Discussing Politics (Hint: It’s Not The Good Samaritan)

Image credit: Dennis Jones

It seems everyone on social media these days is using Jesus’ parables to defend their particular brand of politics. If well-aimed, convenient scriptures can pierce through a relationship and render it permanently damaged. Thank you, Jesus, for helping us kill each other off with your words.

There’s one parable I haven’t seen anywhere in the news feed though. It remains quietly etched in red on the pages of a book that’s apparently taken a back seat to Fox News and CNN. It’s found in Luke chapter 18, starting with verse 10:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee (religious leader), and the other a publican (tax collector, known for greed and fraud). The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust… or even as this publican’.”  Luke 18:10-11 KJV (parentheses mine).

I first learned this parable from a picture book as a child. The Pharisee is shown praying across the room, but still within earshot of the publican. His hands are folded piously and one eye is open, glancing at the “sinner” in hopes that his own “righteous” words will be “taken to heart.”

I wonder what this Pharisee would have sounded like on Facebook.

I thank you, God, that I am not like those hateful “Re-publicans” who shut their doors to refugees and turn a blind eye to the disenfranchised.

I thank you, God, that I am not like those blood-thirsty liberals who slaughter unborn babies.

I thank you, God, that I am not like them.

Of course we’d never phrase it quite like the Pharisee. We’re more subtle in our self-righteousness, using the comment thread to sprinkle adjectives that suggest those on the “other side” are brainless or devoid of conscience.

Going back to the parable, we turn our attention to the publican:

“And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Luke 18:13-14 KJV

I wonder how the atmosphere, not just on social media, but in our homes, work places, churches and in the marketplace would change if we started thinking and praying more like the publican and less like the Pharisee.

God, be merciful to me, a prideful, self-righteous man.

God, be merciful to me, an embittered, angry woman.

God, be merciful to me, for I have scorned others for their blindness, when compassion–not judgment–should be the natural response when someone can’t see the way.


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