proper 25C: casting off spiritual arrogance

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Acts / Epistles / Gospels / Lectionary / New Testament

Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt…”

Imagine such a crowd of people approaching Jesus! They “trust in themselves,” instead of trusting in God. They trusted that they were “righteous,” meaning that they were in right relationship with God. And they looked on other people “with contempt.”

Oh, yes, this is just the type of people that Jesus loved to hang around with… Ahem.

I mean who wouldn’t want to hang around with them! I love being with arrogant people who think their stuff doesn’t stink and who hate everyone else. That’s a good time.

Arrogance is actually something of a theme in the 18th chapter of Luke. The chapter starts out with an arrogant judge who won’t hear the plea of a widow. And then comes today’s scene, which is followed by the disciples who are trying to keep little children away from Jesus (he’s very serious, you know – no time for frivolous games). And then Jesus is approached by the Rich Young Ruler, who arrogantly states that he has followed all the laws of God since he was a youth.

Socially, arrogance is the mentality which follows from the belief that one is better than those around him. However, religiously/ spiritually arrogance goes a bit deeper. Religious arrogance says that you know the mind of God better than anyone else.

It’s the mentality which follows from believing that God agrees with you. Instead of the other way around.

It’s the mentality that manifests itself in saying, “Oh, I know that God said not to eat from THAT tree… but, what’s one little bit?”

It’s the mentality that manifests itself in saying, “Oh, I know how to be like God… we’ll just build this little tower over here.”

It’s the mentality that manifested itself on the night before Jesus died. “It’s just one little kiss.” “I don’t know the man.” “I have power over you.”

And, it’s the arrogance that comes with just knowing that this or that person is going to Hell, that your interpretation of a biblical verse is absolutely right, and that your church is the only church that God loves.

In Acts 15 the leaders of the Jewish Christian Church centered in Jerusalem and some of the leaders of the Gentile Christian movement, including St. Paul, gathered together to hammer out the answer to this question: Do Gentile Christians need to be circumcised? Genesis 17 is absolutely crystal clear that without circumcision God will cut his people off. There isn’t even a little wiggle-room there. And the Jewish Christians who gathered in Acts 15 knew it. But, the Gentile Christians came with the stories of God and the Holy Spirit moving in the lives of Gentile Christians. Wasn’t that proof enough that God was blessing their venture without circumcision?

St. James, the brother of the Lord, stood up after all the arguments were made, and said this to the Gentile converts: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: 29that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled* and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.’

For it has seemed good.

Not, “Thus saith the Lord.” Not, “I have been to the mountaintop, and I have seen the answer.” Not, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”

It seems good.

Here’s the decision we’re going to make, not because we’re certain, but because it seems like this is where God wants us to go.

And there, in the first generation of the church, is the spiritual presence of the Tax Collector: “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

I don’t have all the answers, I don’t know if I’m on God’s side or not, I’m just trying to muddle my way through – but all the while seeking truth and mercy.

Now, gather a group of people like that, and we can have some fun.

And, so would Jesus.