Lent, Luke

Persistently awful

We’re encouraged by the gospel to persist in prayer, to petition God and to pray without ceasing, even to say what we really want.  (Luke 18:1-17)

But I’ll confess I’m a little tired of people who persist … in being awful. It’s exhausting to deal with individuals who always think the worst of you, who reject you over one disagreement, who love to tell a story whether or not it’s true, and who do unto their pastors, in particular, in ways they would be deeply offended to be treated themselves.

Suppose your spouse is a chef. Would you like it if a customer demanded he resign or tried to get him fired because although he cooks beautifully, he likes to use expensive organic ingredients, or doesn’t cook dumplings often enough, or develops too much flavor in his sauce?

Pastors get this all the time. And I don’t think the people who gossip or threaten stop to think about whether the pastor’s family would have health insurance or a place to live if a job were lost. The same people would be furious if their medical or legal practice were similarly threatened, outraged if someone started telling straight up lies about them all over town.

I suspect the difference between church and other workplaces is that people bring their emotions to church. They project whatever is bugging them onto the pastor, the way they would onto a therapist. The difference is that you don’t sit down at a committee table with your counselor, or hammer nails together on a mission trip, or sit together by a hospital bed watching and waiting for a death. Keeping appropriate boundaries in the midst of all this is of course the pastor’s job, and there’s no good to be had in lashing out at the people who give us a hard time. We only look worse for it.

It makes me wonder why any of us do the job.

Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust. (Luke 18:9, CEB)

Clergy, of course, aren’t perfect. We get things wrong, too. I could give you a complete catalog of my failures in parish ministry; I wouldn’t leave out anything, not the times I didn’t get to the hospital, or the home visits I regret not making, the meetings I showed up for only minimally prepared, the sermons I really didn’t get around to until Saturday, even the times I lost my temper – I only look worse for it.

I want to be the one who persists with righteousness, who repents with humility, who receives the word with childlike innocence. I want to be that person. I want to turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, pray for my enemies.

I *want.* To want. To do those things.

And I suppose if it’s hard for me, with my life focused entirely on work related to my faith, it’s hard for others, too. I just wish they wouldn’t be so awful to pastors, persistently.

Holy One, forgive me for the times I have failed you. I want to do better. Amen.

I’m reading and blogging about Luke for Lent. Want to read along? The full schedule can be found here.