Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Tax Collectors Do the Same

Living involves action after action, choice upon choice, day after day.

Those of us who are children of God find ourselves regularly involved in what appear on the surface to be exactly the same kinds of daily interpersonal transactions as everyone else. “Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” the Lord asked his would-be followers. “Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Yeah, they do. Thus, when a Christian loves his enemies and prays for his persecutors, he stands out from the crowd. When he simply and normally loves his family and greets his friends, he doesn’t.

Rain on the Just

That doesn’t make our normal daily interpersonal transactions any less Christian, does it? Sure, being a follower of Christ means extending our love further, and it means extending it to people toward whom we might not otherwise act with goodwill, with the same selfless generosity that causes a good God to send rain on just and unjust alike. But the Christian doesn’t stop loving his family and greeting his friends. To do so would be a denial of the faith. Rather, these normal everyday actions and choices are invested with greater love, prayer and care than the equivalent actions of unbelievers, even if no observer can easily tell them apart.

I would argue it is these normal everyday actions and choices that take up the bulk of our Christian lives. Let’s face it, most of us haven’t got a lot of “enemies”.

Come on, that obnoxious Human Resources lady doesn’t really count, does she?

Find Me Somebody to Hate

That wasn’t the case in first century Judea, where patriotic Israelites lived in occupied territory. Caesar’s henchmen would have been quite visible, and reminders of Israel’s bygone national glory few and far between. In such a historical setting, the instruction to “go two miles” with anyone who forces you to go one mile suddenly appears both more comprehensible and a great deal more challenging. The Lord is probably not talking about how his followers ought to respond to the presumptuous Jewish neighbor who guilts them into helping him carry a load of wood across town, but rather a Roman overlord treating them like his personal slave.

Few of us in the Western world in the last half century or so live under such conditions, though they will almost certainly come again, giving us an opportunity to show kindness to our oppressors as the Lord did to his. In the meantime, to suggest that the landlord who raised the rent again or the gossipy neighbor is an “enemy” in the sense the Lord used the word is somewhat of a stretch. The guy who nicked my Coke from the office fridge was probably just thirsty, not out to get me. Even the kid who beat me up all the time in Grade 10 would probably have been decent if I’d just bought his drum kit like I promised.

Few and Far Between

No, those opportunities to show love to genuine enemies are thankfully few and far between. If we Westerners are going to demonstrate Christ-like love on a daily basis, the bulk of it will likely be to friends, acquaintances and families — at worst, to those who are simply indifferent to us. Thus Paul reminds the Galatians that they should not grow weary of doing good, and adds:
“As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
As we launch into a new year, I am reminded that “doing good” is not a passive occupation. It is not merely a reflex that goes off when someone unexpectedly interacts with me, but a muscle I can exercise proactively by looking out for those opportunities of which Paul speaks.

I suggested to my son a little while back that he take his faith to the next step: that he get up every morning and look for one good, helpful, useful thing he can do for someone else in his life without being asked. It’s not the worst advice ever.

And I’m pretty sure most tax collectors don’t do that.

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