Sympathy for Politicians (or, unmasking the pretense of infallibility among the righteously indignant)
I was preaching last Sunday from Matthew's gospel, talking about how Jesus tried to get the Pharisees to "go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice'" because Jesus shared table with Levi and his treasonous tax-collector friends. Then, a few stories later, after the Pharisees called Jesus on the carpet for the grain-forraging ways of the twelve, Jesus said (loosely paraphrased), "You didn't do your homework. If you knew what it meant--'I desire mercy not sacrifice,'--you wouldn't have a problem with my disciples." We explored a more nuanced view of the three groups--tax collectors, Pharisees, and the twelve--in order to appreciate the storied-level of the inclusio.
Toward the end of the sermon, I asked the congregants, "So, now that we know these people in more charitable terms, who would qualify today as traitors, beyond hope of God's mercy?"
Their nearly unanimous response floored me. "Politicians!"
I'm becoming more convinced that we are completely blind to our own self-righteousness. All of us are politicians. It especially shows up in social discourse over political issues. (Now, I'm not even going to jump into the quagmire of sorting out why politics/power tends to turn gray issues into black-and-white realities--"choose a side: it's us versus them!") Notice how often we work with the unquestionable presumption that our politics are indivisible. Our cause is righteous. Our argument is undeniable. And, if you disagree, you'll discover the indignation of those who are right . . . about everything.
I marvel over this. Take the issue of gay marriage (those who are facebook friends are expecting this). Recently, I tried to enter the social discourse by making a comment about the politics of social discourse. But, it took a while for most to see my point. Of course, gay marriage is a charged issue. Of course, everyone is convinced they're right. But, whenever this happens, I become immediately suspicious. Usually in conversations (I use the word very loosely) like these, there is no giving ground. No benefit of the doubt. No humility. It's amazing how "absolutely" correct we can be in this post-modern world. After all, when a righteous cause is at stake, don't we all operate with an infallible position? Such is the nature of the politics of holiness . . . but, who will go to the sinners and eat at their table?
"You say, 'Love is the answer. Love the highest call. Love is the answer. Love the highest call.' You ask me to enter, but then you make me crawl. But, I can't keep holding on to what you've got, when all you've got is hurt" (to paraphrase Bono).
Jesus, I'm so glad to know you even came to the table of Pharisees when invited. Please come and eat with me and my self-righteous friends.