Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Imagine a World 6

posted by Scot McKnight

ImagineaWorld.jpgThe parables of Jesus summon us to the edge of the world in order to imagine a world that can only be called “kingdom.” 

In this world we have stereotypes, like the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14, after the jump). In this imagined stereotyped world the Pharisee is self-righteous, hypocritical, unloving, and conscious that God is on his side. In that world, too, is the tax collector who, knowing his low status in society and his own sins of robbery, realizes his position before God and so confesses his sin. Instead of claiming his own righteousness, he longs for God to establish him as right. He sees himself as a sinner; the Pharisee sees himself as righteous.
But Jesus wants us to imagine the world where the least desirable people, those who are stereotypical sinners, repent and turn to God. A world where the most self-righteous of people are seen for what they are. 
What Jesus wants us to imagine is a world where truth about ourselves is held in the highest honor, where compassion is what matters, and where self-congratulations are abandoned.
To jolt his readers into this kind of world, Jesus uses a Flannery O’Connor-like set of bold images: the righteous man is not, the unrighteous man is. The imagined world of Jesus subverts our images of who is good — the parable is very much along the line of the Beatitudes of Jesus.

18:9 Jesus also told this parable to some who were confident that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else. 18:10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 18:11 The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: extortionists, unrighteous people, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. 18:12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’ 18:13 The tax collector, however, stood far off and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am!’ 18:14 I tell you that this man went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

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Michelle Van Loon

posted August 6, 2010 at 1:20 pm

The utter helplessness of the tax collector is one of the most beautiful portraits in the parables. He was a noisy, weeping, beautiful mess of a human being.
Christians can live a kingdom culture only when we get how broken each one of us really is…even the Pharisees we may know.

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Glen Hoos

posted August 6, 2010 at 10:39 pm

“But Jesus wants us to imagine the world where the least desirable people, those who are stereotypical sinners, repent and turn to God.”
Robert Farrar Capon, in his truly awesome work on the parables “Kingdom, Grace, Judgment” points out that as evangelicals we read into the text what it does not say. We imagine that the tax collector repented and gave up his sinful lifestyle; that if the parable continued on to the following week we would witness him telling him his testimony about how God had changed his life and he had left behind his life of sin.
But nowhere in the parable does it say that’s what happened. The tax collector rightly recognized his utter bankruptcy before God, but for all we know he left the temple and continued his dishonest tax collecting. The challenge is, can we accept this? Is God’s grace truly free, or did the tax collector have to “earn” it by coming back next week with a moral resume more similar to that of the Pharisee?

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John W Frye

posted August 7, 2010 at 2:51 am

Glen Hoos (#2),
Are you reading the same parable that Jesus spoke? What does Jesus himself conclude? Verse 18:14a–the tax-collector went home “put to rights” with God. Justified. The Pharisee not. A transforming work of God took place in the tax-collector’s life according to Jesus. Maybe Robert Farrar Capon missed that verse. I don’t know.

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Glen Hoos

posted August 7, 2010 at 11:32 am

Absolutely, he went home justified before God. But are we making assumptions about what that means? Does Jesus say that the primary end game of justification is moral change?
I’m not arguing that God doesn’t care about our sin. I’m simply pointing out that the parable doesn’t end with Jesus saying, “and then he left the temple and quit his life as a tax collector.” The tax collector made no such promise in his prayer. All he said was, “God, I’ve got nothing to offer you. Please be merciful.” And God was.
Perhaps Jesus left the ending intentionally vague in order to radically shake his audience’s preconceived notions of what God’s mercy was all about, or who would receive it, or on what basis.

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posted August 7, 2010 at 11:52 am

Maybe he left the end of this parable purposely vague.
But he was not exactly vague in other places – at all. And we have to take this parable in context with passages like Mt 7 (both 1-6 and 21-26 (and what comes between)) and Mt 25:31-46 and Luke 6:20-45.
And of course the instruction to the rich young ruler (“One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.“) follows this parable in Luke 18.

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Glen Hoos

posted August 7, 2010 at 11:57 am

I don’t disagree RJS. I’m just trying to get at how the original audience would have heard it – an audience that didn’t have a bible to cross-reference other teachings, much less Paul’s teachings on justification, to influence how they heard this story.

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posted August 7, 2010 at 12:07 pm

So in context here in Luke 18 we have the pharisee and the tax collector, then children and entering like children, then the rich young ruler.
There is certainly an overturning of the norm in the idea of grace and righteousness. But without Paul the take home isn’t justification by faith (it is only with Paul that we read that into this text). Rather it seems to me that the take home message is that what it means to repent and turn to God is very different from their (or our) cultural norm.

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posted August 7, 2010 at 12:31 pm

I think we basically agree RJS. The way I read it, coming as little children gives the exact same message as the parable. Children were the least, lowliest members of society. The tax collector came to God like a child, with the recognition that he was the least and lowest, and had nothing to offer on his own. Maybe he changed his life, maybe he didn’t… but what left him right before God was not that he changed his life, but that he gave up any pretense of standing before God on his own merit. It is 100% about the mercy of God.

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posted August 7, 2010 at 2:17 pm

The point of the parable is that he gave up any pretense of standing before God on his own merit. The Pharisee didn’t earn favor by his religious acts, the tax collector genuinely humbles himself before God.
But I don’t think that the point is that God’s grace is truly free as you say in #2. This we read in from Paul (or from a particular reading of Paul).
What happened after isn’t in the parable – but the teaching continues through other incidents strung together with this teaching. The children come in earnest trusting,the rich-young ruler is told that total surrender is required. Repentance rooted in action.
Following Jesus is costly and required. It isn’t achieved by spiritual disciplines, religious acts of piety, or by keeping the commandments. Humble repentance before God, childlike trust, and total surrender.

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ID Card

posted July 29, 2014 at 10:08 pm

What a great blog post!

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