My mama always used to say, “Given the right circumstances, anyone is capable of doing anything.” This was her way of trying to curb the pharisaical tendencies that had already begun to form in my childhood heart.
I wonder if there are other mamas like mine – compassionate women who never give up on their babies, even when their hearts grow hardened to the gospel of grace. I wonder if these women pray incessantly – just like my mama did – that their children would encounter Jesus in a life-wrecking way. I wonder if they listen patiently to the self-righteous soap box of their offspring while simultaneously trusting that God’s love can level the most legalistic heart.
I wonder about these kinds of things, because I have to believe that there are people out there who pray for the recovering pharisees just as much as they pray for the recovering alcoholics. We all have our addictions, my vice just wears different clothing.
Addiction is addiction is addiction. And I’m addicted to rules, to guidelines, to laws that convince me I’m better than you.
That’s why Jesus knocks the wind out of my sails when he says to Nicodemus (and to me): “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him, ” (John 3:17). I got so caught up with doing right and being better that I missed the point: Grace.
Being a pharisee might make me feel awesome for a period of time, but like most addictions, the high won’t last. I need the grace of Jesus to sober me up, to shock me back into the reality of my position before God. In his book Wild Grace, Max Lucado says, “God dispenses his goodness not with an eye dropper but with a fire hydrant. Your heart is a Dixie cup, and his grace is the Mediterranean Sea. You simply cannot contain it all. So let it bubble over. Spill out. Pour forth. And enjoy the flood.” That’s the effect of grace – unhindered, overflowing, untainted love.
When my mama cautioned, “Given the right circumstances, anyone is capable of doing anything,” what she was really saying is this: The ground is level at the foot of the cross.
This recovering pharisee is learning the bigness of God. He was too small to me before – only powerful enough to save the hard-working types, those who could pick themselves up by their bootstraps. I ignored the fact that he is also the God of the forgotten. He is God over the tired, the nothing-left-to-give types, those who can’t see a way out. He is God over the ones who just can’t catch a break, and even for those who keep making the same mistakes over and over and over again.
The ground is level at the foot of the cross, even for this recovering pharisee.