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CLUB 444: Neither of Us will be Justified

August 17, 2022

JASON VALENDY wrote this yesterday —

Disgust Will Kill the UMC and GMC

Within the United Methodist Church, the conventional wisdom is that differences divide and similarities unite. Therefore we need to create churches of like-mindedness because a church that has differences cannot walk together. It is the conventional wisdom that differences are obstacles to relationships, and so those obstacles must be removed or we must end the relationship. It is naïve to suggest otherwise. It is seen as ridiculous to suggest the opposite – that differences are what unite and our similarities are what divide.

And yet, I read this parable in Luke 18:9-14 in the Common English Bible:

9 Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust: 10 “Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’ 13 But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven. Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”

The Pharisee and the tax collector are both in the temple praying, but they are separated. Why are they separated? Because the Pharisee is disgusted with the tax-collector who is a heretical, stealing Jew who, from the perspective of the Pharisee, does not have a high view of scripture. Because if the tax collector did have a high view of scripture, they would know that it is a clear violation of scriptural to work for the Romans who worship other gods and enslave people. Disgust is an expulsive response humans have when we encounter disgusting things. It is why we push a plate away when we taste something bad. The Pharisee chose, for the sake of Orthodoxy, to separate himself from the dirty, lying, unclean tax collector.

Then notice, that when the two finish their payers, the parable reads, “I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee.” The word in this parable translated as, “rather than” in Greek is the word, “par”. Par means “alongside”, as in “parallel” parking. At the end of the parable, the two men left the temple side by side.

Something happened in their prayer that removed disgust and the two walked alongside one another. They each were converted from their own disgust. The Pharisee no longer is disgusted by the tax collector and the tax collector is no longer disgusted with himself. The Pharisee is brought low, as in brought down to the proper level since he thought to greatly of himself. And the tax collector was lifted up, as in brought up to the proper level since he though too little of himself. And they walked out alongside one another.

We have no proof that either man changed how they prayed or how they lived. We may assume that the each went back to their work and their lives. We may assume they each went back to interpreting the scriptures the way the had before the prayer session. We may assume they have many differences even to this day, but they walk alongside one another.

The Pharisee and the tax collector understand that it is their differences that bring them together. It is their differences – not their sameness – that attracts one to the other. They understand that they could walk along side each other, even with their fundamental disagreements. The only thing keeping them apart was disgust.

The UMC is splintering, breaking, tearing or whatever word you want to use. The argument is that we have fundamental differences about the authority of scripture, the sovereignty of God, the role of the church, the human condition and the nature of sin. For the sake of argument, lets assume that the UMC and the WCA really do have such fundamental differences (we don’t, regardless of leadership suggesting otherwise). Are we to accept that the differences between the UMC and the GMC are so vast and so much greater than that of the Pharisee and a tax collector? If you think so then I would encourage a re-read of the Gospels.

After prayer, the Pharisee and the tax collector can walk alongside the other, not because one convinced the other, but because in prayer we let go of disgust.

Ultimately, from where I sit, the reason for the turmoil in the UMC is not because of any of the stated reasons, but it is because of disgust. We are disgusted with each other. You see this disgust in all the digital ink spilled as the GMC makes a claim about the UMC and then the UMC makes a claim about the GMC. We grow more and more disgusted with one another and, disgust is an expulsive action.

The GMC is pushing the UMC plate away. The UMC is pushing the GMC plate away. Neither of us will be justified when we come down our little mountains of self-righteousness.

If you read this parable and think, “The tax collector is doing it right and shame on the Pharisee for doing it wrong” then we are doing the very same thing that the Pharisee is doing in the parable. Could this parable be, at least in part, a call to see that it is only when we walk alongside those who are different from us that we have the chance to convert from our disgust. If we do not overcome or even befriend our disgust then we will always be enslaved to it. The more we break into the “likeminded” communities the more disgusted we will be with others. And the most disgust we experience the more we will expel.

At which point it is only a matter of time before we expel Christ from our churches.

Pass the hand sanitizer over this way, please.

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