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Out Our Way: Freezing on the mountain - Luke 18:9-14


Last updated 10/30/2020 at 11:18am

Out our way, before the snows come and the Alberta Clippers start freezing the waters and the blood of those exposed without shelter, is the fall roundup. While Charlie and I rode fenced in pastures, there are still places with open range and it is extremely critical to find scattered pairs and get them down to shelter before the winter's rage is fully upon us.

I have actually done a little open-range work and found it really tough as cattle are often scattered and not especially cooperative. Cattle, especially those on the open range, often think they know best and can go wherever they like. However, heading up into the bleak mountain ranges as winter is about to come roaring down is not a wise decision. Cows don't necessarily know any better and they often follow the leader, even if the leader is leading them to destruction. That is why we have roundups and cowhands are sent to get the cattle to safety even if they don't want to go.

Up in the Bear Paws, the winters can be very severe. I know of ranchers during calving season enduring temperatures near 40-below-zero and pulling calves in the midst of terrible blizzards. I have seen hay being hauled out to the pastures by trucks and snowmobiles and sleds when the snow is so deep the cattle can't easily get to it. I have seen ranch hands take sledge hammers to watering troughs and reservoirs to break the ice so the cattle can drink. Most of those cows will survive because they are in sheltered areas where food and water will be found throughout the worst Alberta Clippers. Imagine the fate of cattle who, thinking they know best, went up the mountain where there was no shelter, food or water.

We live in a time in our nation's history in which a very "severe political winter" is coming hard and fast. Self-proclaimed "lead cows" in Washington, Hollywood, and the media are bellowing for the herd to follow them and many are doing just that. But are they going the right way? How do we know? Well perhaps the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector may help.

I just read a really interesting article about extremists who presently dominate our political scene. Although written by a professed "progressive," the author noted with alarm that the extremists on the left share many of the same attitudes and qualities of those on the extreme right. To name a few, like the Pharisee, both liberal and conservative extremists are proud and arrogant, disdaining anyone who dares to challenge their view as "sinners" - or "racists," "homophobes," "commies," "traitors," "fascists," etc., etc. They also believe they are unassailable in their views, which are right because they say they are. "You either agree 100 percent and follow us or you are evil and the enemy!" There is no room for dialogue or debate.

The Pharisee seeks power over others as a "superior" being and while claiming to seek the good of all, has no trouble abusing that power once he or she is in control. As Orwell famously reminds us in  "Animal Farm," though the movement began with "All animals are equal," it quickly deteriorated into the addendum "but some animals are more equal than others." So the judgmental, bullying, arrogant attitude of the Pharisee ought to be a tip off to all but the most gullible. Now consider the tax collector.

An agent of Rome - and thus a traitor to Israel in some ways - this tax collector eventually allowed himself to open his eyes, ears and heart. Unlike the Pharisee, this tax collector realized he was not God, that he had gone his own way in life without caring about his neighbor. Most importantly he realized, as the Pharisee does not, that he is fallible and can be wrong. In short, he realized "There is a God and I am not Him."

You cannot argue with a Pharisee or debate - he or she will only shout slogans and condemn you. Pride and arrogance marks the Pharisee. A tax collector who is willing to consider "I may be wrong" is closer to the Kingdom than the self-righteous Pharisee will ever be,

This past Sunday was a day when believers were asked to fast and pray for the nation. Hopefully, it was a day when many began to ask if they were following the Pharisee's or the tax collector's example.

Hopefully, it is a day when many eyes, ears and hearts were opened. What have we as a nation done wrong? How do we correct it? What have we, as a nation, done right? How do we encourage and build on it? How do I treat those who have opposing views? Am I willing to humble myself before God and listen as I could be wrong? Or do I refuse to listen to anyone who dares to question my views, unfriend and reject them as "sinners," unworthy of God's love or care?

Pharisee or tax collector? Both sinners before God - yet one will be "justified." There is a lot of Pharisee in most of us, but maybe we have also discovered the soul of the repentant tax collector and in the end will humble ourselves before God and neighbor.

Be blessed and be a blessing!

Brother John - Pharisee and tax collector hopefully on the mend


The Rev. John Bruington is the retired pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Havre. He now lives in Colorado, but continues to write "Out Our Way." He can be reached for comment or dialogue at [email protected]


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