Both pop psychology and American culture thrive on playing up to our individualism. You’re different! You’re unique! You’re not like anyone else! Snowflakes, fingerprints, and DNA are all called in to make the case for how wonderfully special we are. And while that’s true, it’s a partial truth that needs balancing because we hear it too often in this unbalanced form. The more accurate and balanced expression would be to say that you’re unique—just like everyone else. And while this paradox requires more effort to understand, it is well worth it because of the healthy perspective it engenders.
Too many times our uniqueness becomes a distancing factor from other people when in reality, it should be common ground. So you’re different, congratulations! But don’t think you possess the title all by yourself. The reality is, there is a whole world of different people! This means that individualism should never be appealed to as an isolating factor because it is something that is shared by everyone.
Because the Pharisee thought he had earned his way into God’s favor, he viewed himself as essentially different than most others. He saw himself as one of an elite few. He had no personal need for grace and therefore saw no need to extend it to others. His approach to God was pay-your-own-way and consequently all of his relationships were as well. You either measured up and earned your way into his circle of friends or you failed the test and were excluded. Probably the best thing we can say about the Pharisee was that at least he was consistent.
If those who have experienced God’s grace are consistent, then they will treat others as God has treated them, which in a word is, graciously. Those who have been saved by grace should live graciously! We don’t treat people as they deserve because God doesn’t treat us as we deserve.
One of the greatest things about grace is that in bringing us to God it brings us to each other. To be in relationship with God due His grace means that we have no basis for boasting or reason to look down or distance ourselves from anyone else. Whatever our differences might be, they are overshadowed by our common need of the grace of God. In short, it removes all of our reasons for not being gracious to others.
The biblical word for what we’re speaking of is humility. To be humble is to see yourself as you really are. It is to understand your absolute need of God’s grace as well as recognize this is common ground you share with all others. Humility is the extension to all others of the same grace that has been given to you.
Years ago, a hurricane struck the community where we lived. All basic services (water, electricity, phone, etc.,) were out for several days. Ice became a prized commodity because anything refrigerated or frozen was in danger of spoiling. Nothing could be purchased since the stores were in to same powerless situation as everyone else. The temporary solution was that ice was brought in a few times a week to the parking lot of a local shopping center.
I remember standing in line waiting for our ration of ice. Some people came in expensive new cars. Others arrived in less fashionable automobiles. A few people drove up in such junky old clunkers that you wondered if they would be able to make it out of the parking lot if they shut off the engines and had to start them again.
We came from different neighborhoods where we led different lives and when we left we would return to all of that but the parking lot was a classless society. What you owned or where you worked didn’t matter. There were not different lines for different tax brackets. There was one line and everyone who needed ice had to stand in that line to get their ice.
That’s what Jesus is saying in this story of grace. Grace means that not only are we indebted to God, but that we are inextricably linked to all mankind. We may be different from others in countless ways, but in the most important way of all, we are all the same. Therefore, you cannot embrace God and distance yourself from man. Grace will not allow us to do so. Our admission of our need for God’s grace is at the same time a confession of our common ground with all others.