Monday, June 28, 2010

Christ is the Physician, We Are The Sick

30 The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

31 Jesus said to them in reply, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.

32 I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”

I think one of the things Christians need to keep in mind is that, when Christ says He has not come to call the righteous but the sinners, we must recognize we are the sinners who need Him, and not the perfect who are already worthy as they are.  We may be tempted to think we are righteous, but we are not.

All of us are tainted by the effects of original sin, and by the sinful acts we do of our own choosing.  In some cases, it may be easy to see.  The tax collectors realizes he is a sinner and prays for forgiveness (see Luke 18:13).  In other cases it is not easy to see.  The self-righteous instead boasts before God (Luke 18:11-12).

The False Dichotomy

We unfortunately have the tendency to create a false either-or situation in our minds:

  1. If I am [a good person] I will not be [like this tax collector]. (If [A] then [B])
  2. I am not [like this tax collector] (not [B])
  3. Therefore I am [a good person] (Therefore [A])

The problem of course is that just because we may not be "like this tax collector" does not make us a good person.  In other words, if we use Hitler as the standard of evil, we all look good in comparison but if Hitler is not the standard of evil, but rather one example of evil, we may find that none of us can take a righteous attitude in what we do.

"Bad News Boys…"

There is an old joke which runs as follows:

A priest was hearing confessions for a mining camp.  The first miner walks in and the priest asks him to confess his sins.

The miner scratches his head and says "Well I don't know… I never killed anyone."

The exasperated priest tells him, "Get out of here and make an examination of conscience!"

The miner exits and sees the line of miners waiting for their turn.  "Go home boys!  He's only taking murderers today!"

Now of course, the priest was not only hearing the confession of murderers.  Rather he was telling the miner to consider what he had done or failed to do which needed reconciliation with God, and not judge himself in comparison to murderers.

Yet too often, we look at our relation with God with the consideration of what we haven't done compared to others… not in the sense that they have done more out of love for God in comparison to ourselves but rather that we haven't acted as bad as them, so we must be good.

We should remember Psalm 50:

7 “Listen, my people, I will speak; Israel, I will testify against you; God, your God, am I.

8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you, nor for your holocausts, set before me daily.

9 I need no bullock from your house, no goats from your fold.

10 For every animal of the forest is mine, beasts by the thousands on my mountains.

11 I know every bird of the heavens; the creatures of the field belong to me.

12 Were I hungry, I would not tell you, for mine is the world and all that fills it.

13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?

14 Offer praise as your sacrifice to God; fulfill your vows to the Most High.

15 Then call on me in time of distress; I will rescue you, and you shall honor me.”

16 But to the wicked God says: “Why do you recite my commandments and profess my covenant with your lips?

17 You hate discipline; you cast my words behind you!

18 When you see thieves, you befriend them; with adulterers you throw in your lot.

19 You give your mouth free rein for evil; you harness your tongue to deceit.

20 You sit maligning your own kin, slandering the child of your own mother.

21 When you do these things should I be silent? Or do you think that I am like you? I accuse you, I lay the charge before you.

The Other Side of the Coin

On the other side of this coin is the claim that because we aren't doing any worse than anyone else, we are fine as we are.  God has commanded in Exodus 23:2  Neither shall you allege the example of the many as an excuse for doing wrong (in other translations it can be rendered You shall not follow a multitude to do evil).  In the New Testament, Jesus says in Luke 17:

8 If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into eternal fire.

9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into fiery Gehenna.

Going along to get along is not what we are to do.  Christ makes use of some graphic imagery to show the lengths we are to take to avoid sin.  If we would not cut off our foot or gouge out our eye, should we not take steps to avoid sin?  If "the crowd" embraces sin as good, ought we not to avoid "the crowd" when it seeks to lead us to do evil?

Neither can we appeal to the bad example of those who do not practice what they preach.  Jesus, in Matthew 23 says in verses 2-3, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.

Are there individual priests and even bishops who fail to behave as they ought?  Indeed there are, and they will answer for the things they will not repent of.  For Christ says in Luke 17: 1-2, "Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur.  It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin."

However, the personal sins of an individual priest or bishop do not justify our own sins.  Nor does it justify the disobedience of the Church in one area because a priest or bishop is disobedient in another.

Completing the Circle

Thus we can see that both the disdaining of others while ignoring our own sins, and the thinking we are no worse than others so our sins don't matter are attitudes which contradict the teachings of Christ.  He has come to call the sinners, not the righteous.  If we think we are good because we are "not like them" or if we think we are good because we "only do what everyone else is doing," we are behaving self-righteously, and refusing to let Jesus, the Divine Physician, heal our infirmities.

So let us cease to think of ourselves as some sort of "elect" who have it made, and instead recognize we are sinners who daily must rely on Christ to strengthen and sustain us.

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