Daily Devotional for Small Group Discussion: Hell is Other People
Before starting, the meeting host should print out enough copies of this page (click on green printer icon above) for everyone in the group.
After general introductions, word of welcome and review of guidelines for small groups the meeting host will:
1. Invite someone to read the daily devotion printed below aloud.
2. Read the following introduction to the full text aloud:
For this devotion, Rev. Matt Laney chose to reflect on a parable from the Gospel of Luke chapter 18. This chapter offers a number of stories and lessons on God’s special concern for the poor and humble. At this point in the larger gospel story, Jesus is nearing the time of his arrest and death which adds a sense of urgency to his teaching. As we read the complete passage aloud, circle any words or phrases that strike you.
3. Read the full text again (below): Luke 18: 9-14 The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
9He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. 11The 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. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” 13But 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!” 14I 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.’
4. Take a minute or two for silent contemplation.
5. As a group, reflect on the following questions (remember to refrain from cross-talk):
What word, phrase or image jumps out at you from this reading? Everyone shares without commentary.
What’s God saying to you in this passage? (remember to refrain from cross talk)
What is the call to action for you and/or for our faith community? (feel free to engage in group conversation when discussing calls to action).
6. Close the meeting by praying the Lord’s Prayer together.
Hell is Other People
Jesus said: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee 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 saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18: 9-14
Writer and teacher Eckhart Tolle once encountered a woman talking to herself, much to the disturbance of others. Tolle then went to a public bathroom and said to his own reflection: “I hope I don’t end up like her.” The guy at the next sink looked at him and Tolle realized he had spoken the words out loud and that he was a lot like her already.
The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable verbalizes a longer list of “other people” with whom he is happy to disassociate. In doing so, he unwittingly debases himself. Meanwhile, the tax collector rises above by admitting he alone is a sinner in need of redemption.
The philosopher Jean Paul Sartre once said “Hell is other people.” If he meant the downward spiral to hell starts with thank-God-I’m-not-like-those-people, I think Jesus would agree. The best way to get lifted out of the hell of self-righteousness, is to admit you are “other people” and also in dire need of redemption. The tax collector discovered that and was exalted. Blessedly, the same opportunity is available to every sinner including the Pharisee, you and me.
God, be merciful to me, a sinner.