Summary: The church must release our self-righteousness, pride and entitlement if we are going to offer Jesus to our community.
Letting Go of Our Golden Tickets
Remember the classic children’s movie, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?” It starred Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. He’s basic a reclusive owner of a famous candy factory who starts a global craze by offering five children a tour of his factory and a lifetime supply of Wonka candy. The only catch: to be one of the five children you have to find a golden ticket inside the wrapper of a Wonka Bar. Eventually five children get their hands on these golden tickets – including Charlie. He’s kind of the hero of the story. When Charlie finds his he runs home, grabs his Grandpa and they sing a little song, “I’ve got a golden ticket.”
And each of these five children take their golden tickets and proceed with a tour of the factory. They sign a long contract each holding their tickets, expecting their lifetime supply of candy. And then, through the story, one by one each child invalidates their contract by breaking the rules somehow. One falls into a river of chocolate, another eats something she’s not supposed to… Each one somehow wanting to take possession of something they they believed they were entitled to.
That storyline… that idea of having a golden ticket and a spirit of entitlement somehow has a familiar ring to it, doesn’t it? Don’t we tend to think that way about our faith and our religion? Haven’t you heard the language of entitlement in our midst at times? Its as if we think we’ve got some kind of golden ticket – and we’ve got a binding contract with God that states we get certain things, we’ve earned certain rights…
This isn’t a new problem among the religious; it’s a pretty old one. Old enough that Jesus addressed it himself. He does so in Luke 18. This morning we’re going to listen in to the prayers of two men. Listen closely; see if you can hear the ‘golden ticket thinking’ in one of them. And see if you can hear yourself praying in either.
9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The 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. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13But 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.’
14I 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.” Luke 18: 9-14
This parable gives us quite a contrast of characters doesn’t it? Imagine the way it was heard in Jesus’ day. Both characters are well known characters among the common jewish people. The Pharisee was a religious leader, an example of leadership among the Jewish faith. The Tax Collector probably wasn’t jewish, nor would he have been popular. He was probably seen as someone compliant with the Emperor of Rome and the oppression of the Jewish people. The hearers of this parable as it began would have assumed that the Pharisee was the hero of the story and the Tax Collector an outcast and enemy. They would have identified with Pharisee’s prayer and his assumptions of righteousness and spiritual superiority. They would have been appalled by the Tax Collector’s presence in the Temple and his audacity to even offer a word of prayer to Jehovah.
But then Jesus, the master of mysteries, turns everything upside down doesn’t he? He reveals that the Golden-Ticket theology of the Pharisee is wrong and that the untrained, unspiritual, unexpected Tax Collector is the one who goes home justified before God.
Recognize this golden-ticket theology? Is fairly common these days; there are plenty of people walking around just sure they’ve got a lock on what God is about and what he will do for them.
Some people’s golden-ticket is belonging. They’re just sure that if they belong to the right group, they’re guaranteed a seat at the table. The Jewish people really struggled with this. “I belong to the tribe of… I am from the line of….” They were just sure of their election because they belonged to the elect. Being a child of Abraham made them holy and assured them their place before God.
Does any of this go on today? Do we make assumptions about our standing, or others standing, based on what group people belong to? We may not ask about being a child of Abraham, but we’ll sure enough ask if you’re from the legacy of Alexander Campbell or Barton W. Stone… Think about the kind of questions you ask if someone comes up to from a different group? Do you ask them about their journey of faith or do you question the validity of their faith – because they don’t belong to your group. Some of us have a golden ticket – just sure we belong to the ‘right’ group – as if one group is automatically more right than any other.