Well, at least …
“Well, at least I don’t vote Greens.” “At least I don’t live in that suburb.” “At least my kid’s normal.” “At least I’m not on benefits.” “At least I don’t talk like she does.” “At least I’m not like him.”
“And well, God, thank you that my kids are so successful and they didn’t turn out like some of their friends.”
Yes, we can all fall into the “well, at least” trap! Sadly, I know I still can.
We can so easily compare ourselves to others.
We feel the need to look better. To have some we can look down on. Someone to make us feel better about ourself. And regretfully, the older I get, it seems that people like me, people of faith, so often become the masters of the pecking order.
I’m thankful to Judah Smith for bringing this reality to my attention again yesterday. He reminded his podcast listeners of a short story Jesus tells, aimed at those who looked down their noses at common people, particularly those with a “poor reputation”. These self-righteous, religious people were quick to pray long, jargon-filled, self-promoting prayers, complete with good grammar and full of unhealthy comparisons with those they looked down upon. They likely started with the best of intentions, but they lost their way in seeking to protect their own reputation and ego. They became so quick to compare, so quick to cast judgement. And yet so slow to demonstrate genuine love and compassion.
As Jesus tells this cutting, counter-cultural story, his listeners gasp when he highlights that a much-maligned tax collector, one so low in the pecking order, is honoured for his simple, desperate faith.
No long sentences, no big words, no judgement on others, no comparisons. He knows his own story. His own human frailty. His own genuine need. And this leads to his desperate, honest heart cry: “God, I need you!”.
When I compare myself to another, when I dare echo “well, at least”, when I shallowly look down on another, when I claim higher ground, I highlight my own lack, not the lack of others.
I highlight my own invulnerability, my own need to continue to grow in self-awareness and a genuine understanding of what it looks like to live and love like Jesus.
Jesus looks time and time again at men and women, who the culture said were lacking, but he saw their hearts, the real person. His gut was moved with compassion. He modelled humility. He listened to raw and real stories. He came to smash down barriers and obliterate pecking orders.
Judah Smith, in finishing the re-telling of this powerful story [that you find in Luke 18], asks the question: “Who do you most identify with in the story: the comparing, self-righteous religious leaders or the desperate tax collector?”.
The answer should be obvious. But we may need to pause and give this challenging, sobering question the time it deserves.
There are many people looking out for those who are for them, not against them. There are many people yearning for genuine acceptance. Not comparisons. Not labels. Not judgement. Simply love and compassion. The Jesus way. A different way.
As Eugene Peterson captured it: “If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face.”
Tragically too many people see followers of Jesus as those with their nose in the air!
May it not be so! And may it begin with my own honest self-assessment again today.