This blog series follows my “Teachings of Jesus Class”
where we examined the words of Jesus recorded in the gospels.
The Kingdom of God was the subject that Jesus spoke most about, but the End Times takes a close second. It starts out good. Jesus tells us not to be “alarmed” or “terrified” (Mat 24:6, Mar 13:7, and Luk 21:9). I just wish that meant there was nothing to be afraid of.
So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. — Jesus (Mat 13:49-50 NRS)
I want Jesus to have said something different. I want a way that I can exegete this so that it says “all ends well for everyone.” But I haven’t found a way that I can look at it like that. Though I will keep trying and hoping and praying. But stuck with Jesus’s doomsday prophecy, I find myself asking “Who is righteous and who is evil?” Jesus told a parable that answers this question:
Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luk 18:9-14)
Note: A tax collector was not just an IRS employee. A tax collector in the 1st century took money from the Jews to give to their Roman occupiers and oppressors… and then the Tax Collector kept some money for himself. They were the most hated of people…traitors to the nation of Israel.
Righteousness in this story is not about keeping a list of rules, doing a set of good works, or even knowing the right theology. It doesn’t even say that the Tax Collector changed his ways, though I think we can assume he wanted to. In this story, righteousness is about knowing that we are not better than others, knowing that we need mercy, and then asking God for it. Now that I like!