For those of you who don’t know, I wait tables for a living. This is not what I want to do for the rest of my life, although it’s not a bad way to live and I think I’ll be working as a server for a while. But it’s what I do right now. And let me tell you something about service jobs, be they food and beverage or retail: They suck. People, in general, suck. They think that they’re the center of the universe, and that you don’t have anything to do in the entire world but take care of them with your magical super powers that allow you to conjure up an entire meal in a matter of minutes. I’m being facetious, clearly, but only a little. There are some incredibly rude people out there.
But here’s the thing about those rude people: Jesus doesn’t love them any less, and that means that I can’t either. And that hit me really hard tonight, because I had a particular table that I got really frustrated with, and I said some nasty things about them. I was rude and angry and hateful toward them behind their back, and why? Because they don’t understand what exactly my job entails? How did their self-centeredness or their rudeness give me license to speak ill of ones for whom Christ died? This is a weighty realization to come to.
These people, regardless of how rude they were to me, are still the object of the affection of the Creator. I don’t get to decide that they don’t get good service. Paul said in Colossians 3 that we do everything as unto God; everything we do, it’s as if we’re serving or working for Jesus Himself. Tonight, I wasn’t doing that. I was serving myself; worried about myself and my money and my feelings and my time being wasted and my, my, my how selfish I can be. And that’s what heresy is.
Heresy is selfish theology.
Heresy is a theology that says “this is all about you.” Christ’s death on the Cross? He did it because you were worth it. The universe? Created because you needed it. You’re justified by your works; you’re sanctified by your strength; you were regenerated by some merit of your own. Heresy is anything that detracts from the glory that God receives when He brings your dead soul to life.
The Pharisees are a shining example of this. In Luke 18, Jesus tells of two men praying at a temple meeting. One is a Pharisee, and the other a tax collector. Some quick social context: The prayer would likely have taken place during the time that a priest went back into the temple to offer a sacrifice for the atonement of the people. The Pharisee thanks God that he is righteous, based on what he has done for himself. After all, he tithes, fasts, he’s a just man, he’s faithful to his wife. He has earned himself the right to look down on others. It’s all about him and his self-righteousness.
The tax collector, though, is grieved over his sins, and refuses to even lift his eyes to heaven. Instead, he beats his breast, which is a form of mourning usually only practiced by women in the Ancient Near East, and asks God’s mercy on him. He doesn’t trust in himself for salvation—he denies himself and relies solely on the mercies of God. He hurls himself headlong after the grace afforded to him; the Greek reads “may [this sacrifice] be propitious toward me.” Father, I have no hope other than your goodness and grace: Please show mercy to me, even when I have shown no mercy to others. This is the prayer of the sinner. And Christ said that he went home justified, and the Pharisee did not, and I am so like that Pharisee.
I am like the man to whom Christ said “how will you escape hell?” Tonight I looked at those children of God sitting at my table and thought “thank the Lord that I am not like them.” I stood in my self-righteousness and I passed judgement on them; I committed the sin of partiality, or at least some permutation of it. And why? Because I have a wicked heart. Because I can be nothing more than a whitewashed tomb when I fight the Spirit who gives me life. I can clean the outside of the cup, but I’ll leave the inside dirty.
All I can say is “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” May the sacrifice that the Son made on the Cross be propitious toward me, because God knows nothing else can save my soul. Lord help me to love those for whom You died, because my heart is hard and cannot do it on its own.