On Sunday we continued our Parables series and examined an interesting parable in Luke’s gospel: The Pharisee and the Tax-Collector in the Temple. I suggested that this parable was shared by Jesus as he and his followers journeyed through Samaria, where his Jewish friends would’ve felt morally superior to the host Samaritans. In an effort to challenge their supposed moral superiority, Jesus told a story about two people praying in a religious setting. This parable, by the way, is the only of Jesus’ parables situated in a religious environment. Perhaps our claims of moral superiority are more clearly seen in religious environments.
Jesus supplied his hearers with two characters: the moral and religious all-star Pharisee (with a stunning resume of religious exploits) and the Tax-Collector (with his out-of-place-ness). Both prayed their prayers in unique ways and went home. Jesus suggested, however, that the Tax-Collector was the one who went home justified, which would’ve started the original audience, for he was assumed to be the one outside of the realm of possibility of justification.
I used this “out-of-place-ness” idea to sketch the unlikely inclusion of the NT character Paul, who brought physical harm on the church in its early days, only to have had a transforming encounter with Jesus and developed the need/desire to join the very church he persecuted.
In some mysterious way, Paul was the right person for the task of sharing God’s good news to the ends of the earth. His out-of-place-ness was included within the loving embrace of God.
In one of Paul’s letters to Corinth, he refers to himself as one “abnormally born.” (1 Cor 15:8) This original word, ektroma, has perplexed readers and scholars for some time, for the word is rarely used in Greek literature. It’s related words point to the event of a traumatic birth. It is suggested that the word could be related to 1st century delivery practices where a baby was removed from the mother’s womb rather hastily. This procedure could have left lingering marks on the baby, causing it to be called a “freak,” for the remainder of its days.
One could suggest that Paul was called a “Freak” by many as he endured hardships in his commission as a apostle of Jesus. We’d expect no less from Paul to animate an insult with encouragement for his calling as a minister.
I made a statement towards the end of the message about the Church being a community of freaks: a people with scars that don’t embarrass us, but are used to tell a magnificent story of God’s goodness and mercy towards us and the idea that God might be merciful to all.
As we wind down the Halloween season, I’m sure Christians have a mixture of attitudes towards Halloween. Some resist it, others celebrate it. There has always been a stream of Christianity that celebrated Halloween because of a rich theological idea: that as Christian people, we don’t need to fear death because we belong to one who conquered it.
One of the most interesting things that I’ve seen this Halloween season is a couple of skeletons on lawn chairs next to a road that I take on my commute home from work. The street is full of large, impressive homes so the sight of skeletons on lawn chairs is quite startling, maybe even prophetic. As these skeletons bask in the sun around large, luxurious homes, they share this message: “We’re all going to die someday. We might try to delay it or avoid talking about it, but we’ll all face it.”
Perhaps this might be an appropriate posture for the church as a community of freaks: that we do not fear death, that we aren’t going to pretend that we can be exempt from it, and that we intend on making the most of this life that we have.
And we intend for that life to have an incredible depth, not merely an elongated length. Some might just call it “abundant life.”