Summary: Pharisee/Tax Collector - which one had the right attitude to prayer?
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, Luigi died.
The surviving brother, Guiseppe - with a rare touch of conscience, felt that something nice should be said about his brother Luigi 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 Luigi at his funeral. I want you to say that “Luigi 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 Guiseppe, sitting in the front row, the vicar said how evil the pair of them had been.
He went on to say how Luigi 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 Luigi 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, Guiseppe - Luigi 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.
3. And the third thing that would have been considered highly in Jewish society was that he tithed.
Look what he said: “I fast twice a week and I give a tenth of all I get.” (Lk 18:12)
In other words he gave 10% or more of his earnings to church.
Surely this man had everything going for him.
Shouldn’t God be honoured to have this man on his side!!!!!
But look at the attitude of the Pharisee - it was so self centred.
That unholy Trinity of “I, myself and me.”
3. So what made the tax collector more acceptable to God than the Pharisee
Clearly it was the tax collector’s attitude.
He does three things that are acceptable to God, when he prayed.
1. He realised his inadequacies – symbolised by the fact that he “stood at a distance” (Lk 18:13)
He didn’t come smugly into the presence of God but realised his unworthiness
2. He showed that he was ashamed of himself – by the fact that he didn’t feel worthy enough to “look up to heaven” (Lk 18:13).
3. He was full of remorse for what he ahd done – symbolised by the fact that he “beat his breast and said: God have mercy on me, a sinner” (Lk 18:13)