— By JOHN PAUL CARTER
Part of our attraction to Jesus is that he is a master storyteller. When asked a question, he would often respond with a story that invited the questioners to search themselves for the answer to their query. He encouraged his listeners to find themselves in the story.
However, finding ourselves in Jesus’ stories may be more difficult than it first appears.
Sometimes a candid assessment of ourselves places us in a different role than we first imagined.
I experience that in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican who went up to the temple to pray (Luke 18:9-14). The self-righteous Pharisee, Jesus said, stood in the front-row and gave thanks to God that he wasn’t like the Publican whom he could see out of the corner of his eye.
On the other hand, the despised tax-collector stood at a distance with bowed head, pleading, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus added that it was the humble man who went home with the blessing.
As my friends and readers know, two of my most cherished values are acceptance and tolerance. Nothing disturbs me more than a judgmental spirit, self-righteousness, and arrogance. Even as I write this, I want to continue rallying against such attitudes.
Therefore it has been easy for me to identify with the humble Publican and look down on the proud Pharisee. As Kris Kristofferson once wrote in a song, “Everybody needs somebody to look down on.” But when I take a closer look at Jesus’ story and myself, I realize that I may be more like the Pharisee than I would like to admit. Clothed in my false humility, am I not praying, “Thank you God that I am not like those self-righteous Pharisees?” May God forgive my own special kind of pride.
The noted philosopher-theologian Sören Kierkegaard believed that we should use the Bible as a mirror in which to view ourselves. “In order to see yourself in the mirror when you read God’s word,” he wrote, “you must remember to be constantly saying to yourself that it is speaking to me; I am the one it’s talking about.”
In his parables Jesus holds up a mirror and invites us to see ourselves, not in comparison to someone else, or as we wish we were, or even as other people see us, but as God sees us and unwaveringly loves us – as we really are. With God’s help, such a reflection offers the hope of becoming more like Jesus.
Lord, help us to find our real selves mirrored in the stories Jesus told. Amen.
John Paul Carter’s “Notes From the Journey” is a regular feature of Viewpoints.