Pharisees and Tax Collectors

I remember sitting in Sunday School back home sometime around my freshman year in college. I remember talking about loving our enemies.

The teacher asked, directing the question at no one in particular, “Do you pray for your enemies?”

Immediately, a few particular people came to mind, and these people had really hurt me. (Christians who spent their time making me feel like scum and judging me for not being exactly like them.) As it turns out, I had been praying for them. I said, “Yes.”

The teacher, who has always believed me to be only a kind, lovely person, smiled and replied, “Carrie, you’re not really helping my example. When you pray for them, what do you pray?”

“I pray that they would see how wrong they are.”

Not that God would open all of our eyes and reveal His truth and His heart to us. Not that He would heal them that they may heal others and not harm them. Not that God would help them or bless them or fill their lives with hope and peace and love. None of that.

I wanted God, who can do anything, to show them that I was right and they were wrong. My prayers sounded exactly like those of a five year old.

Part of it was that I legitimately wanted them to learn that their actions were both unbiblical and hurting people. They intended to help God’s Kingdom but were actually having the opposite effect. But I think more than that, I wanted a heartfelt, genuine apology from them without having to make the first move in order to get one.

My deeper understanding of the situation and the hurt I felt led me to a place of bitterness, judgment (Isn’t that ironic?), and arrogance.

In Luke 18:9-14, we find Jesus talking to people who have rode in on their high horses. He tells them a parable of two men at the temple, one a Pharisee and one a tax collector. The Pharisee thanks God that he’s not like other people and tells God about all the things he does for Him. The tax collector, who couldn’t even bring himself to look up to heaven, asked God to be merciful to him, the sinner that he was. Jesus says in verse 14, “I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted” (NRSV).

If our prayers consist of comparing ourselves to others, they’re wrong from the start. God understands our hurt and all of the side effects of it, but it’s a different thing altogether to bring a third party into our relationship with Him.

No matter how much harm they’ve done to you, don’t look down on others; God loves them too. They’re made in His image too. Don’t judge them because they’re living their lives differently than you live yours.

It’s really a matter of getting over ourselves. We always hear about how God loves us; if He had a wallet, our pictures would be in it; if He had a fridge, our drawings and report cards would be up there for everyone to see. And it’s all true. It’s all incredibly true. But what we don’t think about is how God loves everyone that much. He loves the rude man at the DMV just as much, the stupid woman at work just as much, and the family member who is always on your case just as much. And He loves your enemies just as much as He loves you.

He doesn’t love them for the damage they do. He loves them in spite of it.

And before you get mad about it, remember that He loves you in spite of a lot of things you do. We’ve all thrown proverbial punches in our time. Remember that while it’s not fair, that we all have been thankful for how much God’s grace overrides fairness. To ask for fairness, we’d be giving up a lot that we actually want.

Your relationship with God regards only you and God. While He cares about our spats and cuts, He wants to heal and help, not play referee in the little games we create and find ourselves in. Praying for your enemies to prosper will change your outlook towards your enemy and possibly their outlook towards you. You’ll be leaving any vengeance and consequences up to God. We need to stop putting people down and stop looking down on them. Being hurt or being conceited doesn’t make someone better than anyone else.

By Carrie Prevette

Conflict and Harmony

Living in harmony is important. I believe this as a Christian, as a daughter of two hippies, and as someone who has many issues with how the world is.

I studied Native American culture and literature one semester at Western and loved it. We mostly covered the Cherokees, which isn’t all that surprising considering we were right in the middle of where they once lived. (Seriously. I walked past or had class every day by a spot that used to be an Indian mound.) I learned so much in that class, including how Native Americans value harmony.

I won’t pretend to know much about many cultures, but Native Americans are the most harmonic culture I do know. There is (and always has been) such a sense of who they are as a people, of community, of really helping each other out. It would be ignorant (and frankly, stupid) of me to tell you no two Native Americans or groups of Native Americans have ever argued or fought. I’m simply saying that they are generally unified and peaceful.

Conflict happens. It’s as simple as that. There are over seven billion people on this planet, and it’s unrealistic to expect to get along with all of them all of the time. Some people run from conflict and others live for it. It remains that you cannot avoid it sometimes regardless of how you react to it.

Not too long ago, we had a volunteer meeting at the church, and Alan told the greeters that they would be the first impression of Christ that people see when they walk in the door, and I don’t know about you, but that thought actually terrifies me. I’m far from being like Christ, and while I understand why people would base their impression of Christ off of a Christian, it seems unfair. (It reminds me of lyrics by a band I love called TEAM. “Couldn’t be like Jesus / But he tried, but he tried, but he tried, but he tried.”)

“Carrie, how am I supposed to be Christ-like if I can’t handle conflict?”

Remember that Jesus was also human and also had to deal with conflict. The Pharisees? He butted heads with them many times. The people in his hometown? The last encounter wasn’t pretty. The general population? Well, they put Him on the cross. Jesus had His share of conflict and in abundance. He couldn’t avoid it any more than you can.

We could sit here all day and discuss reasons for conflict. Jealousy, stubbornness, the inability (or rather, the lack of wanting) to see things from someone else’s perspective, and as Alan mentioned Sunday, judgment. This list will remain just that – a list – because a couple of these items are soapboxes of mine, and for all of our sakes, I’m going to choose to let them sit here without stepping up on them. I just want to acknowledge some of the reasons conflict arises in our lives and, yes, even in our churches.

We read a lot about “one mind and one accord” situations in the New Testament after Jesus’s death and the formation and growth of the Church. Because of this, it’s easy to imagine the early Church getting along perfectly. It sort of conjures images of everyone sitting in a circle singing “Kumbaya” after a job well done.

And wouldn’t that be fantastic? All of these new converts meeting and mingling with the apostles, everyone just doing their things and feeling the love of Christ.

That does sound awesome, and I wish I could tell you that’s exactly how it happened, but it’s not. That’s why those “one mind and one accord” moments are so important. The truth is there was a lot of division and conflict in the Church and in the first churches. (And as a quick word of hope, they made it through with God’s help, so we can too.)

As Paul is wrapping up his letter to the Philippians, he says in 4:2-3 (NLT), “Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life.”

Call me nosy or invasive, but I want to know what they were fighting about. Was it a theological issue or something small that grew too big? Did Euodia want to lead the choir instead of Syntyche or did Syntyche neglect to bring refreshments to the Wednesday night service? I understand that what the argument was about isn’t the point, but I do love a good story, and I would like to know the rest of this one.

I may not know what they were fighting about, but it seems their church did. First, if it was a big enough issue to reach Paul, it probably wasn’t a secret. Second, there are a few people specifically mentioned, not just the two ladies. They don’t mean anything to me, but I’m sure they did to the church or, at the very least, to the people close to the situation.

Paul doesn’t just say, “Hey, solve this,” and end it there. He goes on (in verses 4-9 if you want to read along) to tell them to be joyful, to pray about everything, to only think of positive, praise-worthy things, and to keep doing what they know to do.

The way Paul phrases all of that is lovely (infinitely lovelier than my summation above), but he doesn’t just write these verses so that people will memorize them centuries later. Everything he mentions in those verses help resolve conflict and/or reach harmony.

Staying joyful shifts your focus and your attitude, usually causing less problems and making those around you happy as well (assuming you haven’t let the problem grow to the point that your joy actually angers others).

Praying about everything means you’ll pray about the conflict, you’ll pray for yourself and others involved in the conflict (and I’m not referring to the “God, help them all see how right I am” prayers), and you’ll ultimately arrive at God’s will.

Thinking of positive things leads to a positive and peaceful outlook. With that outlook, you’re more likely to resolve old issues and avoid new ones. After all, who wants to give up a good feeling for ugly wounds? In addition, if more people do this, there will be so much unity. Look at everything God’s people can accomplish when unified and focused on Him.

To keep doing what you know to do keeps you out of trouble and keeps you moving forward, which are both necessary when things are looking sort of down.

Paul’s methods are just as effective now as they were when Euodia and Syntyche were going at it. If you don’t believe me, try them for yourself.

If you want my advice (I don’t know why you would, but I feel compelled to give it just in case), pray about it. I cannot stress that enough. Try to see things from the other person’s perspective. (I did this recently and ended up feeling sorry for someone instead of being upset with the person.) Turn it back on yourself and figure out why you’re perceiving the situation as you are. (No one can “make” you feel anything. It’s how you take it all in.) Talk it out. (As Mrs. Reece, my sixth grade teacher, once said, “The number one problem in the world is miscommunication.”)

Is resolving conflict easy? Not always. Will talking about it be awkward? Probably. Will you feel better when it’s over? Yes.

The goal is to live in harmony. The only way to achieve that is to stop fighting. We should stop putting each other down and start holding each other up. No easy task, but a task worth trying.

By Carrie Prevette

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