Summary: This is a sermon based on a parable about a God Who does not play favorites for a people who do.
You gotta love how this parable starts out: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable…”
Amazing, in many ways, not much has changed.
I suppose there have always been those who think they are better than others…
…who turn up their nose at those who do not meet their standards.
It comes kinda natural to us, does it not?
There are those who are “in” and those who are “out.”
I think that early middle school was the first time I noticed that kind of thing…
…but maybe even earlier with some very troubled children who were not treated appropriately by the teachers or the principal.
Some of us, perhaps, have felt as if we have been “out” our entire lives.
We just never quite “fit in.”
Maybe, we were never so good at telling jokes so we became the punch line.
Perhaps, in first or second grade, we were put in the reading class for children who were the “slow readers” rather than “advanced.”
Maybe we were bullied on the playground or in the neighborhood.
Today, as we all know, there is something called “cyber-bullying” which has led some children to commit suicide.
And the reason?
They have been made to feel that they are not as good as everyone else.
So, “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable…”
And it’s a parable about a God Who does not play favorites for a people who do!!!
Have you ever driven past a homeless person with a sign “will work for food” and have felt a bit of disgust in your heart toward them…kinda like a feeling of “I’m better than you”?
Have you ever felt superior to the prostitute, the poor, the marginalized, the outcaste, those who are “different,” the seriously mentally ill?
Or how about the fallen politician or television evangelist?
Or perhaps even the murderer or rapist?
“To those who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable…”
A Pharisee is standing in a prominent place in the middle of the temple.
“God,” he intones—in his well-practiced, “stained glass window” voice—“I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evil doers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector.”
At the very same moment, the tax collector is kind of quivering in the corner.
Perhaps he is trying to hide behind a pillar.
He’s not showing off.
He’s not trying to get others to see that he’s come to Temple.
All he can do is gaze blankly at his feet, his tears falling in big, wet drops down his face.
“God,” he gasps out, “have mercy on me, a sinner.”
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.”
This is a parable of reversal.
This story turns the usual standards of human society on their head.
Jesus’ listeners would never have expected the story to turn out the way it does.
They would have expected Jesus to say the exact opposite!
Sure, everyone knows that Jesus has His quarrels with the Pharisees, but, at the end of the day, even Jesus has got to admit that they are really good at the righteousness thing.
There’s no one who can keep the Law like a Pharisee.
The Pharisee is the BIG MAN on campus!
“I fast twice a week,” boasts this guy.
“I give a tenth of all my income.”
Add those accomplishments to the huge collection of ritual laws that this man keeps with scrupulous precision, and you’ve got a holy heavy hitter, a spiritual slugger, a veritable Babe Ruth of religious law.
Standing off to the side is the tax collector.
He is, perhaps, the most hated and reviled member of Jewish society.
Remember that Israel, at this point in time, is not independent.
It’s a colony of Rome, a nation under military occupation.
The people groan and stagger under the tax burdens of King Herod, and of the emperor.
Israel has no Internal Revenue Service.
There’s no tax laws to insure, at least, some degree of fairness.
No, all of Israel is a network of freelance tax collectors—turncoat Jews working for the king and for Rome, whose job it is to squeeze out as many shekels as they can possibly extort.
Every tax collector has a quota to meet.
Whatever he can collect, over and above the quota, is his commission and there is no limit to it!
It’s a license to steal.
The first-century tax collector is kind of like the sheriff in Robin Hood.
He has tons of power; he’s widely hated and feared, and there is no one who can stop him.