Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: The Pharisee and tax collector praying in the Temple--what a contrast, but the one in the robes was not the one favored by God. How good do you have to be? This lesson in humility may be startling.


Robes and Rags

October 27, 2013

The following are true stories from Associated Press, San Jose Mercury News and UPI.

Robert Puelo, 32, was apparently being disorderly in a St. Louis market, when a clerk threatened to call police. Puelo grabbed a hotdog, shoved it in his mouth and walked out without paying for it. Police found him unconscious in front of the store. When paramedics arrived they removed the six-inch wiener from his throat, where it had choked him to death.

A man at a party popped a blasting cap into his mouth and bit down, triggering an explosion that blew off his lips, teeth and tongue, according to state police. Jerry Stromyer, 24, bit the blasting cap as a prank during a party late Tuesday night, said Police Cpl. M.D. Payne. “Another man had it in an aquarium hooked to a battery and was trying to explode it,” Payne said. “It wouldn’t go off so this guy said, “I’ll show you how to set it off.’”

An unidentified San Jose man, using a shotgun like a club to break a former girlfriend’s windshield, accidentally shot himself to death when the gun discharged, blowing a hole in his gut.

Police said a lawyer demonstrating the safety of windows in a downtown Toronto Skyscraper, crashed through a pane with his shoulder and plunged 24-floors to his death. Garry Hoy, 39, fell into the courtyard of the Toronto Dominion Bank Tower early Friday evening as he was explaining the strength of the building’s windows to visiting law students. Hoy previously had conducted demonstrations of window strength according to police reports. Peter Lawyers, managing partner of the firm Holiday-Day and Wilson, told the Toronto Sun, that Hoy was one of the best and brightest members of the 200-man firm.

Okay, one more. The Hickory Daily Record reports that Ken Barger, 47, accidentally shot himself to death in an incident in Newton, North Carolina. When awakening to the sound of a ringing telephone beside his bed, he reached for the phone but grabbed instead a Smith and Wesson .38 Special, which discharged when he drew it to his ear.

Each one of these cases involved careless people who thought they had superior knowledge or felt they could prove their superiority. True, Mr. Barger was waking when he thought his pistol was the telephone, but the others were self secure in their knowledge that destroyed them. People that are so sure of themselves and their position in society and religion can be anywhere among us and easy to find. Such attitudes are born of cancerous self esteem growing erratically through spirits, which Messiah warned about in Luke 14. That is where Jesus was invited to a banquet where a lawyer set a trap to find out where Yeshua would seat himself, but the Master knew the invitation was a trick and instructed them to sit in the low seat and let others place you in your proper position of authority or stature. A self-righteous person will gladly sit at the head table.

Our focus scripture passage is Luke 18, beginning with verse nine through 14. The parable is told by the Master of a scene at the Temple involving a Pharisee and tax collector, people who were at the opposite ends of respect in Jewish society. The Pharisee would have held a high political rank at the time this story was told. His status would have meant others would praise him and desire his favor and kind words. To speak evil of a Pharisee would be frowned upon since to some, they were good guys. Also Pharisees were the source of much religious and social conflict, disagreeing with the more elite Sadducees. Pharisees claimed authority from Moses for their interpretation of the Law. The word “claimed” is central to this story since Pharisees placed themselves in the position of authority, much as some leaders in religion today gain their standing through political maneuvering.

This self-righteousness attitude promoted a public assurance that God would certainly respond to Pharisees since they acted like God condoned their position with Him. However, self-righteousness has other words generally associated with such self-positioning, such as sententiousness, moral superiority and holier-than-thou. The Pharisee referred to in this story by Messiah was happy to show the despised tax collector that his beliefs and actions were from a much greater virtue than “that sinner” there in the corner.

Self-righteousness promotes hypocrisy, since the disease does its best to hide faults normally exhibited by imperfect humanity. Since a righteous person is made perfect in the sight of God through grace, the self-righteous cannot admit that it took grace to make him perfect.

Psychology has a different clinical word for self-righteousness, and that word is “narcissism,” which is a negative mental condition or personality disorder; something to overcome. The term comes from Greek mythology. Narcissus fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water. Can you understand how our modern-day promotion of self-esteem leads to self-righteousness, when the reflection a person receives from others is much greater than reality?

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