13 July, 2024

Not a Distant Memory

by | 1 July, 2024 | 0 comments

By Doug Redford

In Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14), he described the tax collector as someone who “stood at a distance” (v. 13) and pleaded with God to have mercy on him—a sinner. Distance. That’s how tax collectors lived their lives—keeping their distance from others who despised what they did in the service of Rome.  

Distance also characterized the way Pharisees lived their lives; in fact, the word Pharisee comes from a word meaning “separate.” That’s how they handled themselves socially: keeping themselves distant from the unfit, unworthy common people and maintaining their “purity” as they saw it. Jesus’ parable portrayed reality; this Pharisee was probably glad that the tax collector chose to stay at a distance

Distance is a word that many people associate (sadly) with religion and with Christianity. Christians are often seen as another “breed”—different, odd, out of touch with people and their real needs. Distance also captures how many people live their lives. For a variety of reasons, it’s hard for them to get close to other people. Perhaps they’ve tried to, but they’ve been burned so many times they don’t think getting close is worth the effort. Better to keep one’s distance.  

The word distance, however, does not apply to Jesus. He came to end the distance between humanity and God. He traveled the immeasurable distance from Heaven to earth to become Emmanuel, God with us. Those of us who are his followers are to be different from the world, yet not distant; Jesus said we are to be salt and light, and we cannot carry out those functions and remain distant. 

Communion is not a distant memory, but it calls our attention to a weekly reminder of how God came near. No social distancing with him! “This is my body…this is my blood,” were spoken by Jesus just hours before he would give his life at the cross to bridge the gap separating holy God from sinful humanity. A Pharisee (Paul) stated it this way: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). At Communion we hold in our hands and bring to our lips the symbols of that nearness. It is a nearness that eluded the proud Pharisee but embraced the humble tax collector. It is a nearness that allows all of us to go home, as he did, “justified before God.” 

Doug Redford has served in the preaching ministry, as an editor of adult Sunday school curriculum, and as a Bible college professor. Now retired, he continues to write and speak as opportunities come. 

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