Yes or No?

Luke 18:9-14  – The 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, October 27, 2013

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector…” (Luke 18:10)

Black and White signJack Reacher is one of my guilty pleasures. He is author Lee Childs’ fictional hero of numerous best-selling mystery novels. Strong and self-assured, Reacher travels America with his wits, the clothes on his back, a toothbrush and saves the day by the conclusion of each novel. The former military cop goes where hitchhiking or a bus will take him. With Reacher, author Childs has created pure reading escapism; there’s not much thinking and lots of action.

Last month I finished Childs’ Never Go Back (2013). Perhaps halfway through the novel, one of Reacher’s decision strategies began to irk me. In scene after scene, he claimed the choices he faced were 50-50 propositions. Yes or no. He’d go this way or the other way. The bad guy will appear now or he wouldn’t. The next action will be correct or incorrect. And yet, as irritated as I became with tough guy Reacher depicting such a black-and-white world, a nagging corner of my mind agreed with his logic.

(Or, maybe—dare I say it—his faith?)

Jack Reacher’s stark worldview also crept into my wondering about Jesus’ parable of the bragging Pharisee and lowly tax collector (Luke 18:9-14).

The Pharisee touted his accomplishments in the synagogue. He was loud, proud and darn happy to be overheard in a crowd. The tax collector, “standing far off,” simply cried for mercy. He confessed he was a sinner. Or, if you’d prefer fancier language, he’d fallen short of the glory of God. He felt a failure.

Two people.

As is oft the case after reading Jesus’ stories, I wondered . . . which one am I like? Mr. Pharisee or Mr. Tax?

The Bible does this quite often. Cain or Abel? Joseph or his brothers? Jacob or Esau? Moses or Aaron? Thomas or the rest of the disciples? Judas or the rest of the disciples? Peter or Paul? (And, since an inordinate number of This or That choices in the Bible are men, another 50-50 decision for modern readers could be: do I think the only worthwhile examples for faithful/faithless choices are found in the Bible’s male-centric worldview? But that’s an exploration for another day.)

Today, with a catch in my throat, I persist with my question . . . am I more like the haughty Pharisee or the humble tax collector?

One, or the other? Continue reading →