Two things are uncertain, two things are certain…

Building you a picture...

Building you a picture…

At Church the minister used the American election as a lead in to talking about the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Her premise being, that 21st century Americans and 1st century Jews could both identify with being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

In the fraught presidential contest two figures are struggling to engage an electorate that finds each of them hard to relate to (albeit for different reasons and to a different extent). Americans see compromise and discomfort in either choice. I am by no means suggesting this is a two horse race. Someone has entered a beligerant rhino into a steeplechase with the attendent consequences. See the New Yorker for a cogent discussion on the two candidates.

No, the election is not a two horse race, but it is one of great ambivalence and uncertainty.To another story of ambivalence and uncertainty – the praying tax collector and Pharisee. The first – direct and honest, even if compromised through his collusion with the oppressive establishment. The second – apparently an important and distinguished figure that is a boastful, braggadocios parody of himself. The minister said that it would have been hard for the 1st century Jewish audience to know who to identify with. The Pompous Pharissee delcaring who and what was in or out, or the less flamboyant, more earnest tax collector with connections to empire, but who was at least more aware of his limitations.

The minister did not push the analogy, she used it merely to set the scene of a culture negotiating deep ambivalence. To push the analogy too far would be a fool’s errand.

I am that fool and this is my errand.

It seems clear to me who is who in this scenario. It may seem a bit of a stretch to put the Republican nominee in the role of a learned scholar, but then he’s also an odd fit for the part of ‘successful businessman’ and yet he gets away with it.

The Republican candidate would likely be much more enthusiastic with the casting of his Democratic rival as ‘The Tax Collector’. Just in it for the money, tied up with all the elites, definitely up to something shady – is probably where he’d go with that. But there is definitely something of the Pharisee about the Republican candidate – concerned with self image, self promotion and self preservation, arbitrarily defining who is and who is out, demanding respect without modelling it. You can imagine him saying, “I’m good at prayers, I’ve got the best prayers, nobody prays like me – ask the Sanhedrin, I pray big league, it’s a beautiful thing to see.”

Is there something of the more muted presence of the tax collector about the Democratic candidate? He is definitely a subtler, more pragmatic character, conflicted but self aware, compromised by connections but still striving to be a good person. The Tax Collector is cautious of attention, not actively courting it like the Pharisee. And as for the taxes? Under the ‘A fair tax system‘ heading on her website is the line: ‘Making sure the wealthy, Wall Street, and corporations pay their fair share in taxes.’

21st Century North America and 1st Century Middle East are uncertain times of soul searching. We are often told that two things in life are certain – death and taxes. 1st Century Jews and 21st Century Americans have to decide. What’s it going to be?


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