As I’ve disclosed on this blog before, I’ve never been much of a reader. There have been periods in my life when I’ve done a lot of reading, but it was all required to graduate. The books I have read for fun, and enjoyed, are usually so obscure, it has been hard to find another one like it. So, I plod my way through books, sometimes enjoying them, sometimes, setting them aside. One of the many detriments of not being a reader is that my imagination is often lacking. Television and movies do that work for me. Every once in a while, however, I can get there. I’ve been reading Bryan Stevenson’s memoir, Just Mercy, and when I first saw the trailer for the film adaptation, I shouted (ask our Christian Ed Director, I actually shouted), “That’s who I pictured for that character,” when the scene cut to Tim Blake Nelson playing Ralph Myers.
My peculiar imagination went into overdrive this afternoon as I read through the well known parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector appointed for Sunday. Perhaps because it came on the heels of reading “Paul’s” words at the tail end of 2nd Timothy, but as I read this parable today, I began to picture Paul as the antagonistic Pharisee. In his letters (and the several ascribed to him), Paul shows an amazing ability to brag on himself while suggesting that he isn’t bragging. Maybe it is a quality that Jesus’ audience associated with the Pharisees, but as I heard, in my mind, the man say “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” I couldn’t help but hear Paul rehearsing his pedigree as an Apostle who “fought the good fight,… finished the race,…. kept the faith.”
It was then that I was reminded of a challenge that faces every preacher – don’t make it about you. It can be so tempting to make yourself the hero in every story, the faithful example in a world of heathens, the example for your flock to follow, but it would seem that’s not really how this leadership thing in supposed to work. As is clear in the parable (though clear parable is an oxymoron (sorry for the excessive use of parenthetical notations)) the proper approach to leadership in the Kingdom of God is humble leadership, even servant leadership. It is about leading by actions and not by words. It is about loving those to whom you have been called to lead. So, I’m sure Jesus didn’t have Paul in mind when to told that parable, but sometimes, it is fun to imagine.
In case you wanted to watch the trailer for Just Mercy, here it is.