We are always the bad people.

I teach at a Christian school. One of my great pleasures this year was having a first hour class, which meant leading devotions. I had a great year leading devotions, for a lot of reasons. The main reason was my students were great. They loved a great conversation. Another reason was the book our Principal gave us for devotions this year, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. We would wrestle regularly with what we though of Sarah, and just when we felt like throwing the book out the window she would hit us all between the eyes. Either way it was fun and we learned a ton.

At one point I read the parable of the prodigal son to supplement the devotional. During the subsequent conversation I asked, "Find a parable where we are the good people."

Katie replied, "We are always the bad people."

What a great discussion followed as we tore through the Bible Gateway and our memories looking for parables where we are not the bad people. In our Calvinist tradition guilt is a big part of life. It was a great day discovering together that we are not always the bad people, or more importantly and more commonly that we are always the people loved by God.

Inspired by these great discoveries we went on to discover great physics.
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We humans like to see the patterns in things. We like to associate good behavior with good repercussions - we think that if we are "good", that that gives us an in with God and other people. But whether we are "good" or not doesn't factor into the equation at all. And it's not always about the "fire and brimstone" either. Most people either fall into the trap of trying to be "good" or the trap of feeling awful that they are not "good". We get stuck on either the "guilt" part or the "grace" part. We forget that there's a third step: gratitude.
Jesus' parables are not about condemning ourselves or each other (it's not really about playing "who's the bad guy"); they're much bigger than that. The parables about the kingdom are about the invitation. The parables about grace are about the energy God gives us to follow after him. The parables about judgement are where things get really hairy. But it's okay - they point of those is (again) not about condemning ourselves or each other.
The point of the parables of judgement is the urgency that there is work to be done - we have accepted the invitation to be Kingdom builders, we have been blessed with the energy to do the work, and now we must throw ourselves wholeheartedly into that work.