Summary: When we are faced with someone who thinks they are better than we are we try to rise above this through the reassurance that we would never treat anyone else the way they treat us. But with that kind of attitude, are we really any better?
At one point in our lives, I am sure that we have all have come across someone that has an “I am better than everyone else, especially you” mentality. I myself have encountered this kind of attitude at multiple points throughout my life. I have experience it in the food service industry in which I currently work, and I have even encountered it in the church as well. For now, let us focus on my experiences in the food service industry. As many servers/bartenders etc. are probably well aware, there is a certain type of person that we encounter that embodies this mentality to a tee. For a good visual, check out the movie Waiting (2005),[i] especially the scene toward the beginning of the movie where a well-dressed female patron comes to the restaurant the movie takes place in for lunch. This type of person usually has a lot of money and wants everybody else to know it, or at the very least wants everyone to believe that they have a lot of money even if they don’t. In my experience, this type of person makes an assumption that since someone is serving them, that person must be below them socially, and thus acts toward that person in a way that makes them know it; looking and talking down on them because they perceive that they are better than the people serving them their food. When we, as servers, encounter said people, we have the tendency to commiserate with one another about how we feel we are being treated by our customers. We try to rise above this through the reassurance that we would never treat anyone else the way they treat us.
When we read the assigned texts for today, we come across the statement “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall”[ii] as well as a conversation Jesus has with “those present” about their thoughts of there being worse sinners compared to themselves, concluding with Jesus basically saying no, they are no better than the people they are talking about.[iii] Speaking from experience, the tendency is to read them through the lens of the situations I mentioned above. We think to ourselves, “If only those people would read these verses, understand them, and take them to heart; maybe then they wouldn’t treat other people as though they are below them.” We have the tendency to feel vindication for ourselves in that, in the eyes of God, they are in the wrong, and we are in the right. But there is one key aspect about Scripture that we are forgetting when give into the temptation to read Scripture in this way.
In the letter to the Hebrews, the author likens the Word of God, Scripture, to a double-edged sword;[iv] an image that is repeated in the prophetic letter of Revelation.[v] This takes the Apostle Paul’s simile of the Word of God as a sword, the Sword of the Spirit to be exact,[vi] one step further. What this image portrays is that, as a double-edged sword, the Word of God has the ability to cut in two different directions; it is able to cut one enemy in one direction and a different enemy in another. So, on the one hand, these Scripture lessons for the third week of Lent do admonish those who think they are better in some way, shape, or form than others; that is the sword cutting in direction one. When that same sword swings back however, it cuts in direction two; admonishing us for thinking that these texts only admonish them. It is like the old adage goes, when you point a finger at someone else, remember that you have three fingers pointing directly back at you.
You see, my friends, in the eyes of God we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, as the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Rome.[vii] There is no graduation of sin, no various levels of sinners, in God’s eyes; all fall short. In the assigned Gospel text for the third week of Lent, Jesus tells his questioners two different times that there is no one that is more guilty than the next when in comes to their sins before God. So, while yes, it is not okay for other people to think of themselves as better or above anyone else, it is also not okay for us to think more highly of ourselves over them by complaining and commiserating about them as if to say we would never treat someone else like that. When we do that, we are in fact doing the very thing they are in which we are complaining about.
Going back to my experiences in the food service industry, the patron’s who believe themselves to be better than the servers by the mere fact that they are serving them, have no idea what brought that server to the position they are in. Perhaps they lost their previous job, one that to many is considered to be very respectable perhaps. Or perhaps they are working their way through college to earn a degree in a field that is very prestigious. Or maybe they are just working to make ends meet to provide for their family, something that is very respectable in its own right. On the flip side to that, the server has no idea what brought that patron to that time and place with that specific attitude. Maybe they are just having a bad day. Maybe there are extenuating circumstances in their lives that they are bottling up. Maybe they do not feel in control of any other aspect of their lives and this is the only thing they do feel in control about. Whatever the situations may be, on either side, the fact remains that no one has the right to think of themselves as better than anyone else, even if that mentality is being acted out onto them; something I myself am guilty of doing, as recent as this past weekend.