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Summary: Why was the tax collector more acceptable than the "good" Pharisee

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OR/NR 24-10-04

Parable of the Pharisee & Tax Collector - Lk 18:9-14

Story: In a small country village in Sicily, there were two brothers, renown members of the local Mafia.

They were mean, bad and very rich.

No one had a good word to say about them.

Indeed, everyone seemed to have a story about how they had either been cheated or maligned by the brothers.

One day, one of the brothers, Dan died.

The surviving brother, Jo - with a rare touch of conscience, felt that something nice should be said about his brother Dan at the funeral.

So he went to the local vicar and said:

“I know that folk in the village hate us, and they dont know the half of what we have been up to. However, I want you to say something nice about Dan at his funeral. I want you to say that “Dan was a saint” when you preach.

If you will agree to do that, I’ll show my gratitude by giving £100,000 towards the repair of the church roof. And here’s the cheque.

If you don’t, you’ll be in big trouble with me and don’t forget that my reputation is not for nothing.”

The vicar thought about it for a minute, agreed and took the cheque for £100 K.

A week later, the whole village turned out for the funeral and everyone wondered what the vicar would say.

After the opening hymns had been sung and the readings had been read, the vicar climbed up into the pulpit and delivered his sermon.

Eyeing the brother, sitting in the front row, the vicar said how evil the pair of them had been.

He went on to say how Dan had cheated, not only in business but on his wife, how he had lied and how had had no concern for anyone but himself.

In fact he went on to say what a downright scoundrel Dan had been.

After ten minutes of preaching in this vein, the vicar, being the man of integrity, ended his sermon by simply saying

"But compared to his brother, Jo - Dan was a saint.”

The sting in the tail.

And so it is with our Gospel today. Jesus’ audience would have been quite offended when he told them the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

The sting was in the tail. Because it was the tax collector not the Pharisee who went home justified

So why the sting in the tail?

1. The tax collector

Tax collectors in Jesus day were seen as the lowest form of life.

They colluded with the occupying force - the Romans. They collected far more tax than was required by the Romans and then lined their own pockets.

And when the locals objected they used the Roman army to coerce the money out of their own countrymen!

Indeed you couldn’t have met a nastier set of people.

2. The Pharisee

In contrast to the tax collector, the Pharisee was seen as the pillar of respectability in Jewish Society – after all he was very religious.

He was what we would consider to be a good man.

He pointed to three things that he thought made him a cut above the others

1. Firstly he kept the 10 commandments. He said:

“I thank God that I am not like other men- robbers, evildoers and adulterers or even like this tax collector. (Lk 18:11)

2. Secondly he fasted twice a week – probably on Monday and Thursday. Such a fast usually consisted of living that day on bread and water.


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