Continuing with our theme, “Give up Something Bad for Lent”, we have yet another challenging scripture through which to work. This one might perplex us some because we suppose that Jesus, having been raised in a Jewish home with Jewish parents and customs should know better. Don’t we all tell our children and grandchildren to wash their hands before coming to the table for a meal? But there is a bit more going on here than simply taking precautionary measures to prevent germs and illness.
I’ve been reading through the Bible again with hopes that by end of year, I will have completed it – Genesis to Revelation. It’s been my pattern to try to do this every year. There are sections of the Old Testament that really fascinate me and those that we never hear in church because they are gruesomely repetitive and endlessly set in descriptive sacrificial laws – the right and wrong way to prepare an animal sacrifice, the blood from the lamb, ram, or goat thrown against the sides of the altar- never easy reading in the morning, which is the time I set aside to do my study and reflection. Today’s reading from Luke on first glance may seem counter –cultural and, in fact, it is. Christ sits at the table of one of the Pharisee’ and begins eating without first washing his hands. This was strictly forbidden by the Law. Of course, the Pharisee calls him on it. Without missing a beat, Christ flips the tables on all those gathered Pharisees, these learned, religious men who know the Law superficially but fail miserably in the way they live out its deeper meaning, the greater Law of God’s justice and mercy. Christ calls them out on the way they neglect the love of God, promoting their own goodness, their tendency to religious showiness. There’s a lack of authenticity and insincerity about their attitudes, which call into question their actions. They go by the book but Christ is pushing them to live out the truer faith by living out God’s love toward and with others. It’s a hard message and one that raises questions in the minds of the Pharisees. How can this man truly be a messenger from God if what he lives is so radically different from how they live? Aren’t they also messengers of God, bearers of God’s truth? Don’t their by-the-book behaviors point to the authenticity of their faith?
Well, perhaps not. Since we’re exploring the themes lifted up in the book, “Give up Something Bad for Lent” by James W. Moore, what did Moore have in mind when he chose this scripture? What are we supposed to give up? Well, Moore suggests that simply going through the motions of faith is not the same thing as having faith. Saying all the right words, making all the right sacrifices, isn’t the same as living out the words or making the sacrifices of a true faith in a God of love. He suggests that too often we are subject to negative attitudes –like Envy, Shifting Blame to another and Self-pity, all attitudes that can be the fodder for a good bit of religious hypocrisy.
I remember back when I was growing up, my good friend Susan had a boy doll that I so wanted. There were three of us playing that day and though there were dolls enough for all three, we all wanted to play with that boy doll. So we fought…loudly until Susan’s mother took it away from us with the statement, “If you can’t take turns with the doll than no one gets to play with it. You are all friends so cut it out.” We had clearly forgotten what good friends we were to each other as we struggled over possession of that doll. We had clearly forgotten that friends are supposed to share. Instead of living out our friendship in healthy ways, we let our envy get the best of us and even went one step further trying to shift the blame on one another for the argument taking place at all. Susan’s mom took away the thing we wanted and we were fighting over so now we had to face our respective guilt. Friends don’t fight with each other. They care about each other. They want to be helpful, not hurtful. We knew the rules but our actions defied and denied them. Envy, shifting blame and ultimately, self-pity ruled that day.
The bigger we get, the bigger our issues become. There is no honor in righteously claiming our superiority or our right to have what doesn’t belong to us. And, as we get caught up in these fractious relationships with others, we lose sight of the much larger and far more important relationship we hold with God. Giving up these negative attitudes and living into the example of Christ in our lives brings us peace.
I suppose it would be no surprise to anyone that personality types can and do play into how we act toward others. I have to be especially cautious. As an INTJ on the Myers Briggs Personality Scale, my tendency is to judge others more harshly than I should. That’s the “J” in my type. I’m pretty hard on myself too, but I almost always think, at least at first, I’m right. That’s Pharisaic behavior and it doesn’t bring any honor to me nor does it allow for the proper respect I should have toward others. But, thankfully, I’m also a T, which means a thinking and reflecting person. I do a lot of that sorting through the interactions I have with others and continually measuring the ways I have slipped – those times and places where my attitudes and my behaviors cause grief to others and unhappiness to God.
Lent is a good time to look at how we treat others and what we are doing to ourselves when we live out unbecoming behaviors like envy, self-pity, shifting blame to another or judging someone harshly without recognizing our own, similar faults. It’s also a time to see, once again, how much God loves us. God gave us Christ in our lives to help us align our behaviors with our beliefs. As Moore in his book reminds us, “When we remember God’s love, and when we pass that love on to others, then we can – with the help of God, by the grace of God – rise above envy and blame –shifting and self-pity. With God’s strength and power, we can be victorious over the enemies within. And if we can give up these enemies within for Lent this year, hopefully, prayerfully, it can be the first step in giving them up forever.” What a challenge! Amen.