Summary: The parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector.... one represents all people through history who seek to find "their" own "way" to justify themselves.... and one represents the one who finds Jesus and knows that by faith God sees him/her "just as if I
In Jesus Holy Name October 24, 2010
Text: Luke 18:9-14 Redeemer
“They Both Came to Pray”
During the past Sundays our Sunday morning Gospel lessons have been moving us through the Gospel of Luke.
In Luke 14 Jesus told his disciples about the “cost of being a disciple.” In chapters 15-16 Jesus taught about God’s love and desire to find those who are spiritually lost and so we had the story of the “Lost Sheep”, the “Lost Coin”, and “the Lost Sons”. In Chapter 16 Jesus confronted the Pharisees regarding our ultimate destiny….heaven or hell. He tells the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus.
In Chapter 17 Jesus talks about the consequence of sin and the challenge to practice forgiveness with one another. In Chapter 18 Jesus teaches his disciples about the necessity of persistence and faith in prayer. He tells the parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge.
In our gospel lesson today Jesus tells another parable contrasting two men who went to the temple to pray.
In the temple of Jesus’ day, a lamb was sacrificed at dawn for the sins of the people. A second similar sacrifice was offered at three in the afternoon. When the time came for the burning of incense, this was thought to be an appropriate time for private prayer. By this time in the service the sacrifice of the lamb had covered the sins of Israel and thus the “way to God was open for prayer”. The faithful could now approach God. (The Parables of Jesus ..Divine Drama Harry Wendt)
It is likely that the two men in the parable were present for either the dawn or mid afternoon ritual.
The Pharisee was very strict. He lived an obedient life. He wanted to be faithful to God. He wanted to please God. The Pharisee stood and thanked God that he was not like other men; extortioners, unjust, adulterers. Then he counted his virtues…. He fasted and gave 10 percent of his wealth to the poor. He had kept the Jewish dietary laws.
He was probably a very good guy. Honest. Truthful. He may have even belonged to several service clubs in his community. He may have served on the local school board. There is no doubt that he was admired in the community.
The other man was a tax collector. He worked for the Roman government. It was his job to collect taxes for the Romans. If people didn’t pay he could turn them into the authorities. Chief tax Collectors would bid on contracts for collecting taxes in certain districts. They were hated by the Jewish population as turncoats. They were considered cheaters. They often assessed the property more than the true value… that was their commission.
In Chapter 19 we will meet Zacchaeus who after meeting Jesus said: “If I have cheated anyone I will pay back four times the amount.” Tax Collectors were considered the scum of the earth.
It isn’t hard to see the contrast.
Both men stand before God. Granted, the Pharisee wants to stand before God by being better than thieves and rouges and adulterers, or even like that tax collector in the back of the temple. Luke says: He thanked God. But he should have stopped. He went on to list a litany of the things he does: fasts twice a week, (when only once was required). He gives a 10th of his income. He wants to stand before God on the basis of what he is and what he is doing.
The tax collector also stood before God. We only know that he is a tax collector, despised by his fellow Jews. He was a sinner. He prays for only one thing, God’s mercy. “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
The Pharisee drew these conclusions about himself by comparing himself to other people. Did you notice that? “Lord, I thank you that I am not like other people.” When any of us compare ourselves with other people, it’s pretty easy to pick out those people who make us look good.
The problem is that God doesn’t judge that way.
The tax collector didn’t measure himself that way. He must have measured himself by the standard of God, because he concluded that he was a sinner. He realized he did not have a leg to stand on. Only God can justify.
I often tell our confirmation classes that the word “Justify” means that God looks at us through the blood stained cross of Jesus and looks at us “just as if we had never sinned.”
But we must admit, we, like the Pharisee get pretty good at justifying ourselves. We learn how to defend ourselves against all of our short comings and failings. And if our failures are exposed so that everyone can see them, we may convince ourselves that perhaps there are a few good things we have done to balance out the bad things. Surely they count for something. Surely they can tip the scales of justice in our favor.