Summary: Part 2 of 8 on Jesus, with this one dealing with Jesus breaking down walls between people.
JESUS SHATTERS THE “US” AND “THEM” MENTALITY
TEXT: Luke 18: 1-14
Sunday, February 24, 2002
We continue our series on “Celebrate Jesus,” and someone suggested that it looked awfully cheerful for a Lenten series. Aren’t we supposed to be repentant, aren’t we supposed to be a little darkened, aren’t we supposed to be a little solemn in our Christian life during this Lenten season as we approach the great triumphant day of Easter. I would say that historically the church has been a little morose when it comes to Lent, but not in the early church.
The whole purpose of Lent was to set aside 40 days in order to fast. The intent of fasting is not to deprive yourself of food. The intent of fasting is to devote yourself to prayer and study of the scripture. The whole intent of Lent is not the taking off but the putting on. I try to take a more positive approach to Lent and to put on something that the Lord would call me to.
What we are going to do in this series is to take on seven or eight attributes of Jesus. In the process, you will discover ways in which your life doesn’t match up. That is where repentance comes in.
Last week we talked about the first quality of Jesus that was so attractive and that was that he was so spiritually connected. He not only modeled being spiritually connected, he is the connection itself. Of all the qualities of Jesus, I think this one is the primary one that makes him so exciting to us and why we are drawn to him. When we put our faith in him, we find this dynamic presence of God in our lives, and it changes us.
Today I would like to talk about a second quality of Jesus. It is illustrated all through his life and his dealings with people like the Samaritan woman, like Zacchaeus, like the Centurion, like the leper and the lame. It is also illustrated in his teachings, as well. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a current illustration from the day that makes one spiritual point which was simply, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus shocks them by defining the term “neighbor” in terms that were very foreign to them. They expected Jesus to define the word neighbor according to geography, but he did not. He did not define it by nation or by family. He did not define it according to our personal feelings. Jesus doesn’t define neighbor according to the terms that we do. He simply says this, “Your neighbor is whoever you come across who is in need and you are able to do something about it. That’s your neighbor.”
When it hit Jesus’ audience in his day and the implications of that definition began to sink in, I think the crowd probably gasped. That would mean a Samaritan is my neighbor. That would mean that a Jew is my neighbor. That would mean that someone of a different nation, a different color or a different religion is my neighbor. That would include the Romans as my neighbor. Wait a minute!! You can’t mean that! That would mean the poor, the leper–all these people are my neighbor. How can that be?
I think this reaction of the crowd was very common because Jesus’ words took them by surprise. God does not think the way that we think, and over time Jesus pondered why people have such a hard time getting together and loving one another. Why do we categorize and label people in certain ways. As Jesus thought about it, he discovered that we think very differently than he does. We have a certain way of viewing the world that is very foreign to God. In Luke 18: 9-14, I think Jesus addresses this paradigm. This is the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector:
John Reilly of The Reilly Factor says, “Now I warn you, you are about to enter God’s no-spin zone.” God comes very directly at us here and challenges how we think and how we define things in our lives.
The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector illustrates the terrible human tendency to think in terms of “us” and “them.” You see what the Pharisee says and does. He talks about the tax collector. He does not talk to the tax collector. He does not talk with the tax collector. He talks about him and objec-tifies him. He has no relationship with him. He is just pointing to him and telling God, “That’s not me. That’s not us. That’s them. That’s those type of people.” In verse 9, it tells you why he thought this way. The whole purpose of Jesus telling this parable was to deal with those who were self-righteous, people who felt that they deserved God’s grace and forgiveness because of how good they are. The result is that they became proud and began to compare themselves with others.