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Summary: Father Dave’s sermon on the parable of the tax collector and the Parisee. Father Dave challenges the conventional understanding of the Pharisee.

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Luke 18 - Jesus told them another joke.

I know your translation says ’parable’ rather than ’joke’, but ’joke’ is not a bad translation. We don’t tell parables nowadays, we tell jokes, and they’re pretty similar - both have punch lines, both can help you to see life in a different way, both can give you a good laugh.

So Jesus told them another joke, and he told this joke to those who ’trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others’.

’Did you hear the one about the Pharisee and the tax-collector’, he said, ’who both happened to turn up to the temple at the same time to pray?’

Lots of jokes start this way, with natural protagonists finding themselves accidentally at the same location.

Did you hear the one about when Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat went into a men’s room in Gaza at the same time to relieve themselves?

Did you hear the one about the two Irish Protestant teenage boys who find themselves stuck in a lift with the Catholic bishop of Limerick?

Did you hear the one about the Pharisee and the tax collector who turned up to the temple at the same time to pray? They are natural protagonists - classic figures for a good joke.

Incidentally, did you hear the one about the two Irish Protestant teenage boys who find themselves stuck in a lift with the Catholic bishop of Limerick?

One of the boys ribs the other one and then says to the bishop ’well Father, I’ve heard tell that your Pope has taken up smoking recently. It’s a dirty habit Father. Have you heard that?’

’No. I can’t say I have’ says the bishop, apparently undisturbed.

Undeterred, the boy says ’I’ve also heard that he’s been hitting the bottle a little lately - making friends with the old Jack Daniels, so I’m told. Is that right, Father?’

’Well, that’s the first I’ve heard of it’, says the bishop.

’You know Father’, the boy makes one final frustrated attempt, I’ve heard your Pope has got a few women hidden away up there inside the Vatican. Is that right Father?’

’Well, I wouldn’t have believed it’ says the Bishop. ’It’s the first I’ve heard of it, but I’m glad to be kept informed. Thank you.’

The other boy decides that his friend is making no progress in annoying the old cleric, so he says ’you know Father, I’ve heard that the Pope is becoming an Anglican.’

’Well, so your friend has been telling me’ replies the bishop.

Back to the joke in Luke 18: the Pharisee and the tax collector turn up at the temple at the same time to pray. They manage to miss each other at the door. They make no sarcastic exchange when they notice each other, but the Pharisee can’t resist making a back-handed reference to the tax-collector in his prayer: ’God, I thank you that I am not like other men: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.’ (Vs.11)

The tax collector’s prayer conversely makes no reference to the Pharisee, but is simple, and perhaps somewhat pathetic. ’He would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ’God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’(vs.13)

I don’t know what you know about Pharisees and tax-collectors, but I suspect that for many of us it’s a bit like your knowledge of cowboys and Indians.

I don’t know if I learnt much American history from the early Westerns I watched as a kid, but one thing I did learn -cowboys were the good guys and Indians were the bad guys.

It’s similar to what you learn about the 2nd World War by watching old war movies. The first thing you learn is that the Germans are all bad guys and that the allies are all good guys. The second thing you learn is that the Germans are really bad shots.

I think that those of us who have had Sunday School upbringings might have inherited a similar view of Pharisees and tax collectors. The Pharisees are the bad guys, and the tax collectors were the persecuted and much misunderstood friends and companions of Jesus.

Of course when those who fought in the wars see the old war movies, they often comment that they didn’t experience things quite that way. And I suspect that if we were living in New Testament times, we would not see Pharisees and tax collectors quite that way either.

For starters, there is no way that any of us would be able to think of a tax collector as a ’good guy’. He was not a poor and persecuted guy, like some despised and pathetic drug addict. He was a wealthy and money-grabbing traitor, more like a drug pusher.

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