Remember that scene near the end of the Wizard of Oz, when Toto is pulling back the curtain? The sound system is bellowing, ‘Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. THE GREAT AND POWERFUL OZ HAS SPOKEN!’ And There’s a little man behind the controls, talking into a microphone.
Kind of reminds you of certain religious institutions, doesn’t it? Short little insecure men, hiding behind names and titles, sending everyone on Mission Impossible while they themselves indulge in secret sin. The preacher stands in front of thousands and shakes his finger. Nobody else knows that he had a stripper in his hotel room last night. Somebody tells you, ‘Here, follow all these rules and be the best person you possibly can, and you might have a shot at being accepted by God someday.’ Then they string you along and get you under their thumb.
No wonder people are cynical.
Well it’s no accident that Jesus’ own biggest enemies 2000 years ago were precisely those same self-righteous hypocrites. When Jesus showed up, they were terrified of losing their cushy jobs and political clout. Eventually they murdered him for exposing their racket.
True spirituality had been buried in a big pile of bureaucracy, and the religious establishment used it to gain leverage. To have power over people, to get priority seating in expensive restaurants, and to line their pockets with cash.
They had everyone thinking that pleasing God was a never-ending performance marathon.
Well Jesus painted a totally different picture. He told this story:
‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a holy man and the other a tax collector.
The holy man stood and prayed, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this lousy tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’
But the tax collector, standing far away, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’
Jesus explains: ‘I tell you, this tax collector went home forgiven, rather than the holy man; for every one who praises himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be praised.’
Beware of the proud holy man who hangs a bunch of rules around your neck.
That humble tax collector had it right. He was doing the only thing you and I can do to be accepted by God. He just asked, with humility.
Tomorrow I’m going to attack Lie #2:
‘God is huge and unapproachable, and He wants you to labor, struggle and live in guilt.’
Thanks for reading!