Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

Faith Lens

October 20-26, 2010–Schadenfreude

Contributed by Bob Chell, Lutheran Campus Pastor, South Dakota State University

Warm-up Question

What’s your favorite reality show? Why?


Google “why we love reality TV” and you will get 50,500,000 results in 0.24 seconds. Type in “list of reality TV shows” and you’ll find 500+ shows in 13 categories encompassing life from cradle (Toddlers in Tiaras) to teens (My Super Sweet Sixteen) young adults (Cribs) dating, (the Bachelor) marriage (Bridezilla) and the aftermath (Cheaters). The last is only one of the twenty two ‘hidden camera’ reality shows.

As television mirrors real life, real life returns the favor with the recent posting of a Duke University student’s web power point of her sexual partners titled “An Education Beyond the Classroom: Excelling in the Realm of Horizontal Academics” listing names and evaluating the sexual prowess of those with whom she shared her body.

It doesn’t stop there. Much like the twenty two “hidden camera” shows, a  Rutgers University student thought it would be funny to leave his webcam on when his roommate had a romantic encounter, twittering other friends to ‘tune in.’

His roommate, the unwitting star of the video, Tyler Clementi, took his life the next day, jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

YouTube now has a video about “the two worst people in the world” meaning, of course, those who posted the webcast on the internet…and, as day follows night, articles, video’s and, of course, Facebook groups condemning or defending all of those listed above. One cannot tell the victims from the victimizers.

Discussion Questions

  • How do you feel about yourself when you find yourself delighting in the misfortune of others?
  •  Why do people consent to be on a reality TV show. What does it say about them?
  • What does the proliferation of internet sites devoted to the misfortune of others say about our culture? About you and me?
  • Will you surf the net differently for having read this article?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 24, 2010 (Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost)

Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

Luke 18:9-14

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

I love words and this text calls to mind two of my favorites; “supercilious” (soo-per-sil-ee-uh s) meaning “disdainful: having or showing arrogant superiority to and disdain of those one views as unworthy” and the German word, “schadenfreude” (\ˈshä-dən-ˌfrȯi-də\), meaning pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.

It is easy to see the Pharisee as supercilious. I love the word because pronounced aloud it contains the word ‘silly.’  And how silly for one person to think they are better than another, right? (Do not answer this question aloud.  I, like Jesus, am setting a trap for the unwary.)  Schadenfreude is the feeling we get when the trap is sprung.  Surely you’ve had the feeling, haven’t you? If you’ve ever been passed by a reckless driver going 30 miles over the speed limit only to see them pulled over by the state trooper five miles later, I know you have.

To be a Pharisee one had to be devout, taking faith seriously and working to live as God would have one live. Tax collectors did, in fact, impoverish others as they enriched themselves.  Both can be, and were, scoundrel or saint in different contexts.

Jesus didn’t come to tell bad people to be good people. When my children were young I remember driving by the county jail one day with them when one of them pointed to the jail saying, “That’s where they keep the bad people.” I wouldn’t have thought much of it if I hadn’t spent the previous afternoon visiting a student there. “No,” I said, “that’s where they keep good people who make bad choices.” Don’t get me wrong. I, like you, know there is evil in the world. Only a dolt would believe otherwise. Yet, at the end of the day there is only one kind of people not two. Jesus didn’t come to tell bad people to be good people, Jesus came to forgive sin and call us into discipleship.

If we are honest with ourselves, we can and do play both parts in Jesus’ parable.

Discussion Questions

  • Would you answer the warm up question differently after having read the news article and reflection?
  • Do you know people who, because they are smarter than others, believe they are better than others? How many words can you substitute for “smarter” in the above sentence?
  • What does it say about us when we find ourselves delighting in the misfortune of others?
  • Martin Luther said we were simul justus et peccator, both saint and sinner. What does this mean in the context of this parable?
  • Have you ever gone to a pastor, teacher, or someone else in authority to take responsibility for having hurt another? Did that ease or add to your burden? Why?
  • What is the significance of Jesus forgiving sin and calling us into discipleship versus calling us into discipleship and forgiving sin. 

Activity Suggestions

  • Read what this Wikipedia article says about simul justus et peccator,, and discuss whether you agree with Martin Luther.  Why or why not?
  • Keep a log of the time you spend watching reality shows this week, and another of the time you spend texting, chatting via the internet and on facebook. Next week talk about how these activities  enrich and impoverish your life.
  • Identify those places where things contrary to God’s way of living are portrayed as glamorous on TV and in your school or workplace.
  • Pray for the saints and scoundrels you see on TV, in your school or workplace, and in your homes. Include yourself.

Closing Prayer

Forgiving God, I have mocked and teased others and relished their misfortune. Forgive me and break open my heart so I can feel the pain of another. Healing God, I know the pain of my brokenness and work to hide it from others, from you, and from myself. Help me face my pain and give me the courage to share it with someone of trust, that your grace and forgiveness may become real in my life. Amen.