Summary: This is a comparison on the attitude of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector for an Ash WEdnesday service.
February 9, 2005 Luke 18:9-14
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Dear friends in Christ,
If you were to write your own eulogy, what would you want it to say? Would you want it to say, “Mr. Smith was a great humanitarian, a wonderful husband, a faithful member of _______________ congregation?” Or would it say, “Mr. Smith was a filthy drunk, a womanizer, and a swindler to boot.” I read something once that said something to the effect of, “if you want to figure out what to do in life, write your own eulogy and then work backwards toward that goal.” It’s not too bad advice. Yet the problem is - no matter what you WANT your eulogy to say - and what it really ends up saying - those are two different things. Ultimately, you can’t control what people think of you. When push comes to shove - does it really matter WHAT the world thinks of you? Yes, you want a good reputation. God doesn’t want you giving HIM or your CHURCH or your FAMILY a bad name by what you’re doing or failing to do. What matters is what GOD thinks of you. This is all important, because when you die YOU will have to face Him. You can’t send your secretary, your mom, or your brother to stand in your place.
The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector shows a man - the Pharisee - who had a problem with this concept. It wasn’t that he was necessarily overly concerned with what the world thought of him - though I’m sure he would have been. It was the fact that he was approaching God on what HE thought of HIMSELF. He said, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ It’s kind of interesting - that as I was preparing for the sermon on this text, I got to thinking about how often we get so used to dogging this guy as just the most pompous jerk in the world - standing in the front of the church with a special robe on and raising his hands to heaven. But if you think about it, is that the picture that Jesus is necessarily drawing for us?
There are two points that came to mind. First of all, look at what he is doing. He is THANKING GOD that he isn’t a robber, evildoer, or adulterer. If he was thanking God that he wasn’t like those other people in the world - was he not in fact giving God credit for his life? He is not being completely arrogant in taking all of the credit for himself. He is acknowledging that the life he is living is a gift of God.
Think also about the things he is not - assuming he is being somewhat honest. He was not an adulterer, robber, of blatantly evil person. He didn’t overcharge people for taxes. He led a seemingly moral life. None of us wants ourselves or our kids to be well known robbers or adulterers. These are evil things. These are lifestyles that are not to be commended. It all too often happens that we as Christians use our “sinfulness” as a crutch - an excuse for immoral behavior. Some people who were well known in Christian communities have not only ended up being swindlers but adulterers and perverts as well. The sad thing is that they excuse their behavior under a rash of excuses ranging from their own “weakness” to the fact that it was someone else’s “fault” - they were simply forced into it. The other sad thing is that when we are so eager to show that we aren’t Pharisees, that we love to show people how “normal” we are. Even though this includes foul language and drunkenness and lewd jokes, at least we aren’t “Pharisees.” This man’s goal was to live a somewhat “moral” life - and he seems to have accomplished that in comparison with the many wicked people in this world. There is something to be commended in this, as strange as it may seem.