Guilt

In with the Vipers

John the Baptist doesn’t make any friends by calling everyone brood of Vipers. Now note that Jesus doesn’t contradict John. To understand their shared message, we need to focus on what is healthy and not, relating to pride and shame. What would John, or Jesus, make of the boast, “I am proud to be an American” or the current rush in France to buy tricolor flags since the Paris attack?

 

Shame is related to who we are, as opposed to guilt that involves what we do. We can have false pride relating to both who we are (things outside our control) or relating to things we have done (boasting of our accomplishments).  John tells the good Jewish people who come to him, not to have unhealthy pride in the fact that they are “children of Abraham” (Luke 3:8). Similarly, I don’t think we should have false pride in the fact that we were born Americans. If I had been born 10 miles south of where I was, today I would be speaking Spanish and worrying about Mexican politics. False pride is sinful and can lead to a lack of compassion.

 

Mistaken for a Dead Man

Guilt is a funny thing. Like humor, it depends upon ambiguity. Everyday we do things that are wrong, but we tend to only feel guilty about the ones that have some confusion to them. Remember the story that Jesus tells about the rich man and Lazarus; the dude with a Rolex on his wrist and a Porsche in the drive, walks by the beggar at his door, never feels guilty, and doesn’t realize that he has contributed to Lazarus’ early death by his neglect. The rich man lives, we assume, a very purpose-driven life, with clear goals and no time for soft-headed things like charity. His approach to social ills is unambiguous; what’s this got to do with me?

 

Where we see great guilt in the Bible is in characters who allow ambiguity to creep into their worldview. This is the primary purpose of preaching. To insert ambiguity into people’s lives. This is the desired outcome of worship, to leave people feeling insecure about their prejudices and assumptions.

 

Sunday, July 12, 2015
Pentecost 10
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