I strive very much to have a mercy narrative in how I live and behave…. especially in light of the things that have occurred and played out in my life. Mercy and love are two words that are very interchangeable in scripture. Mercy basically means love toward people that are strugglers and sinners.
There are two basic narrative identities at work among professing Christians. The first is what I will call the moral-performance narrative identity. These are people who in their heart of hearts say, I obey; therefore I am accepted by God. The second is what I will call the grace or mercy narrative identity. This basic operating principle is, I am accepted by God through Christ; therefore I obey.
People living their lives on the basis of these two different principles may superficially look alike. They may sit right beside one another in the church pew, both striving to obey the law of God, to pray, to give money generously, to be good family members. But they are doing so out of radically different motives, in radically different spirits, resulting in radically different personal characters.
So what do you do when these two narratives clash! I know that I can have a form of grace-legalism; that is, I can have an unloving heart toward unloving self-righteousness ….. or pharasaism. So what have I learned! Well, the first thing is just love others unconditionally. The second thing is when confronted by self righteoussness is to have strong boundaries when it comes to your communication. Love them … yes … but these people are not the same as the people you trust in the closer circle… so dont communicate in with them the same way. The deeper levels of communication are reserved for people you trust and have a secure track record with. For example, I have a few close friends that have invited me into their inner circle. These are special friends. We talk at a deep level. We are invited into each others lives and discuss things at a very intimate level. My wife is one of those people. I have a few other men in my life that share that same level of communication. Communication goes beyond cliches, fact reporting, and advice-giving. Its transparent, honest, and gulp…. intimate. Walls of performance and personal image have been torn down…. mostly!
Also this form of communication is threatening to most people and to talk to people that aren’t ready at this level is almost impossible. They will feel threatened. You really cant invite yourself into that world unless you invite each other in. To go in uninvited means a threatening environment for the other person. And if you are invited in it also means you share a two-way, not a one-way street.
The thing you can do with ALL people is to have a mercy and grace narrative with them! This is the one need and thing you can offer that is completely audience and type of person independent. This grace and mercy narrative meets the needs of all people all the time!
The parable of the pharisee and tax collector contrasts the pharasaical moral performance narrative approach with the mercy narrative of the tax collector!
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
I want to point you to the words “I fast twice a week”! Up to this point the pharisee was only quoting old testament law about being a robber, an evil-doer, etc. Now he says he fasts twice a week. He now has an additive to the divine will of God! He now has something other than a grace and mercy narrative to the tax collector! He compares his moral performance to the tax collector’s and says here look at my performance RELATIVE to him!
This is what phariseeism does it. It adds a tweak or narrative that exists outside of the Gospel based truth and adds something to the truth. It has a close resemblance to the truth…. but its really a very evasive lie. It compares its performance to the others. The tax collector on the other hand just looks at his own heart and says “God have mercy on me a sinner”.
Today, I am thankful for the way my wife and I communicate. Sue and I are taking a marriage class and she told me last week “I cant believe how far we have come”. It took a lot of hard work for me and Sue to get past the first three levels of communication of (1) cliches, (2) reporting facts, and (3) giving advice. Its deeper and more intimate and it (4) shares real needs and feelings… yes men, feelings…. and it (5) risks emotional and personal openness.
I am also thankful for the men that have invited me into their lives and that I have invited in. Together, we strive to see the tax collector and the pharisee in all of us and says “have mercy on me, a sinner”!