Unrefined Reflections on the Pharisee and the Publican

These are unrefined reflections. That means I’m just writing what I think, and if people don’t understand what I’m saying, then they don’t have to read it. I’m not in the mood right now to phrase everything smoothly and accurately. Plus, everyone should expect to be offended by this post.

Luke 18:10-14 has the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, in which the Pharisee brags to God about all the good things he does while looking down on the sinful tax collector. The tax collector, meanwhile, beats himself on the chest and prays, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”

I feel that a lot of evangelicals fit the profile of the Pharisees. “No I don’t–I believe in salvation by grace through faith,” I can hear them saying. Sure, but they still think they’re better than everyone else. “I’m so good because I believe the Gospel,” the Arminian types say. “There’s evidence that God has saved me, for I do good things, plus I don’t sin that much,” the Calvinist types say. When evangelicals gather together and display that “joy” they love to express, are they truly happy, or are they just trying to show others that they’re better than everyone else because they have a “happy, happy” facade?

I see a lot of self-righteousness in the alcoholic recovery community as well. In one group I attend, a person relapsed, and he’s not been back to the group. One of the members said in his absence, “You have to want it” (recovery), implying that the guy who relapsed didn’t truly want to recover. No wonder the guy’s not been back. I wouldn’t come back either, if I had to put up with such self-righteousness.

In evangelicalism, if a person doesn’t believe 100% like evangelicals and runs into problems, the evangelicals can be really judgmental. “That’s what happens when one doesn’t follow God,” some of them say (or imply). Some may interpret the problems as a divine punishment. Others may see them as divine chastisement. Still others may view them as the natural outgrowth of sin. There’s not a lot of humility in any of the approaches. It’s all basically, “This person fell because he’s not perfect like I am.”

I also hate the way that evangelicals treat people as projects. One time, I was looking at Christian books at an evangelical’s house, and I asked about one of them. “You’re not ready for that book,” he said. That’s really condescending. It screams, “You’re not ready to read that, since you’re not as spiritually advanced as I am.”

When I hear evangelicals brag about all the unbelieving friends they have, there’s a sarcastic thought that goes through my mind: “Well, aren’t you salt and light?” I hope they’re making friends with them because they like them, not to show how they’re such good Christians because they’re reaching out to unbelievers.

Evangelicalism is rife with “I’m so much better than the next guy, because he doesn’t do all the good things that I do.”

Now let me criticize mainline Protestants. Mainline Protestants look at a parable like this and say, “Aww! Jesus is so compassionate! He’s reaching out to the tax collectors, who were the outcasts of society. And so we should reach out to the outcast.”

Indeed, Jesus reaches out to the outcast. But the tax collector really was a sinner. He wasn’t just misunderstood or shunned out of prejudice. There’s a reason he was beating himself on the chest! John the Baptist told the tax collectors not to take more money than was due them (Luke 3:12). Why? Because they were extorting people! The tax collector Zacchaeus paid a lot of people back when he turned to Christ (Luke 19:8). These guys were bullies and oppressors, not victims.

Of course, who knows? Liberal Protestants may not care when the federal government oppresses people, especially when it’s collecting taxes. But if a corporation exploits people, watch out!

Part of me admires the tax collectors. They earned lots of money, and they didn’t give a rip whether their neighbors liked them or not. They had a fairly comfortable lifestyle. And I guess they had community–they ate with each other. In times when I feel like an outsider, I think, “Well, I wouldn’t care about this if I had lots of money and was set for life.” And that’s how the tax collectors were.

But, as I was saying yesterday, the way of the flesh is a dead end. They needed to make their peace with God. And so that one in the parable asked God to be merciful to him, a sinner.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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4 Responses to Unrefined Reflections on the Pharisee and the Publican

  1. Anonymous says:

    Now that was a fun read!

    “Of course, who knows? Liberal Protestants may not care when the federal government oppresses people, especially when it’s collecting taxes. But if a corporation exploits people, watch out!”

    Now I’m a liberal protestant! I’m no bleeding heart; in my honest moments I have very little qualms with social darwinism. It’s just that I see the “biblical imperative” as one of social justice–but I don’t do much about it and I don’t wear any affectations.

    I also have a strong background in economics, and worked for the investment banks that generally only accept the strongest ivy-league applicants. And many of my friends at church are highly successful and have a fair amount of net worth. So do most of the congregants at the mainline churches I’ve been a member of. In fact, the average income of the Presbyterian and Episcopal churches is the highest; those liberal protestants are the one’s paying taxes. They “put their money where their mouth is.”

    And how about the Paulites? I read a statistic (which I can’t seem to track down) that the median Ron Paul supporter had the lowest average income, and therefore, that they paid the least–if any–taxes of any group. Those angriest about taxes were the least aware of the benefits that their subsidizations brought them and they paid the least. They feel oppressed though they are basking in the benefits of free roads, schools, military, representation, safety, and buffers that keep bums of their doorsteps. And it’s not very difficult to significantly reduce your taxes through a variety of, sometimes leveraged, strategies.

    I find the myopia of palaeoconservativism dangerous, for that myopia ensures that they remain in a cycle of relative poverty by an underappreciation of market forces. In my mind, it’s another type of victim mentality and yields similar results.

    An ideology is only as good as its witness and their trajectory.

    To anticipate the giving rate between liberals and conservatives, it’s a drop in the buck compared to total contribution. So I don’t buy it.

    Now for something relevant. I love it when fundies say “I have a gay friend” while thinking “I remain aloof from him, I think they’re going to hell, and they’re perverting the natural order.” That’s the most disingenous type of thing I hear from fundies.


  2. James Pate says:

    Actually, I’ve used the “I know gay people” line myself. That was in response to my liberal sister, who said, “You’re only against homosexuality because you don’t know any gay people.”

    I agree with you on a lot of liberals being wealthy (limousine liberals, they were once called). I guess my problem with some of what you said is the same problem I have with the What’s the Matter with Kansas book: it assumes that lower-income conservatives don’t understand how economics affects them.

    I mean, seriously, would Ron Paulites oppose taxes so much if they were unaffected by them? And maybe the people of Kansas have experienced one too many interventions from big government. Perhaps they have reasons for being conservatives, and it’s not just God, guns, and gays.


  3. Anonymous says:

    I guess I can concede one point. Regardless of the reality, the perception is there. And that’s important, too; and the facts need to be clarified.

    But people that make less than 50k with children don’t pay hardly any taxes! The majority of these people complaining feel that they are, but they aren’t. It’s as simple as 123.

    Perhaps they (wrongly) think that FICA and Medicare–because they get virtually everyone. But the simple fact is that lower-wage earners benefit from social security and Medicare far more than high-wage earners (especially with medicare) do; so while they have to pay 8% of their income, they get the money back and then some later on. The only way they get stiffed is if they die young or have an extremely healthy old age. Perhaps they are irritated that someone else tells them how to use their money; but I think that the majority of those people wouldn’t invest their wisely or save it, leaving others to care for them entirely.

    If you can show me any proof that lower-income American families struggle with income taxes, I can certainly change my mind. But that would require overturning the basic tax-tables; after standard deductions and personal exemptions, the math simply is not there.

    “I mean, seriously, would Ron Paulites oppose taxes so much if they were unaffected by them?” In short, yes. That’s the irony of his lower-income supporters. They are actually beneficiares.

    I welcome you to do this research. You will find this to be true most of the time; all you have to do is find a Paulite with a family of 4 that makes about 90-100k+ and they actually are paying some taxes. They, therefore, have reason to complain.



  4. James Pate says:

    Actually, the point you’re making is more Rush-Limbaugh-esque than the one I’m making, Jake. He’s always saying that the poor and middle class hardly pay any taxes. But even a small percentage can be burdensome to someone who doesn’t make much money. Plus, add to that other taxes–sales, property–and people will start complaining.


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