October 27, 2019
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
Rush United Methodist Church
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Jesus tells a parable;
a parable that sets a trap.
The best traps are camouflaged in simplicity and in plain sight.
Do not be fooled by this simple parable!
Jesus sets this trap for any unsuspecting or uninformed disciple following him.
This parable is a trap set for you and me.
Less the trap of this simple parable spring
and convict us of heresy and contempt.
Heresy and contempt.
You heard me right.
One wrong step and
you or I can step into the cow pie of heresy;
of violating two of the big ten commandments:
“I Am the Lord your God. Thou shall not have any gods before me.”
One wrong step in a different direction will actuate the trap door;
dropping us into the dungeon of contempt;
exposing the disdain we harbor for others.
First, let’s deal with Heresy.
Heresy is a belief or opinion contrary to orthodox Christian doctrine.
Where is the heresy here?
and how can I learn to spot it, and
avoid stepping in it?
Pharisees in the time of Jesus often get a bad rap.
They aren’t villans, not hypocrites, nor necessarily adversaries of Jesus.
Scripture tells us that some are even sympathetic to Jesus.
The Pharisaic movement in ancient Israel sprung up in an effort to
emphasize obedience to the law of Moses.
It was a movement of both lay and rabbinical clergy.
Righteousness according to the law ensured
healthy spiritual disciplines,
healthy families and communities,
and for keeping the rites of kosher and cleanliness,
a way to encounter God’s holiness.
You or I could easily be Pharisees.
This Pharisee in today’s parable attends Temple.
Wonderful, we should attend worship, too.
The Pharisee prays a prayer of thanksgiving to God.
Great, we should offer to God prayers of thanksgiving, too.
So far, so good.
This is when the wheels come flying off.
He begins with the pronoun, “I”.
I give thanks
I’m not like that thief,
THAT tax collector.
Three more times the Pharisee starts with “I”.
I exceed the minimum requirement to fast once a week.
I fast twice a week!
I exceed the minimum requirement to tithe 10% of my net income.
I tithe 10% of my gross income!
the Pharisee is so full of himself;
He’s so full of his own righteousness
that he has lost the desire to place his whole trust in the Lord.
“I trust in myself and my own righteousness!” he’s thinking to himself.
He doesn’t need the Lord.
His trust is in his ability to follow the law of Moses without fail,
making his self-confidence greater than
his trust in the Lord.
This is the height of heresy.
The Lord reminds us, “I Am the Lord your God.”
You and I? We are not the Lord.
Living a good, clean life does not rocket us to the front of the line
Second, lets deal with the trap of contempt.
Because of the Pharisees self-imposed righteousness
He has developed a chronic disease known as spiritual superiority.
We all shift uncomfortably in our seats.
The Pharisee believed others were beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn;
Especially those who intentionally broke the law of Moses,
Like thieves, rogues, adulterers, and tax collectors.
His disdain is exposed for all to see.
Contempt is a delusional belief that we know better than God
who should or who should not receive God’s mercy.
We do not.
We do not know better than God.
The Lord knows better than anyone
Where his mercy and grace are to be spread.
Mercy is the Lord’s prerogative and
Ours is not to judge.
Jesus is criticizing those who distinguish
Ourselves and our values from
“one of them.”
In God’s worldview
All are sinners, loved anyways.
All are fallen, redeemed anyways.
Even the most righteous still come up short of perfection, are saved anyways.
When we think of ourselves as holier than thou,
Better than “one of them,”
Our exalted contempt is flipped upside down by Jesus
And we find ourselves humbled.
Who are the “one of them” people in your world?
Are they communists, socialists, or a member of the opposite party?
Are they drug addicts, street people, or crazy people released from the asylum?
Are they owners, administrators, managers, or workers in the trench?
Are they officers, enlisted, or civilians?
Are they people with HIV, members of the LGBTQ community, people getting welfare handouts, or people with developmental disabilities?
Are they convicts, inmates, or felons?
Are they pimps, prostitutes, or people caught with their hand in the cookie jar?
Are they people with different skin colors, different accents, different faiths, from different lands?
Who are your
“one of them”?
We do love to paint people with a broad brush,
Lump people into stereotypes, because
Then, it’s easier to build a wall between us and them.
Contempt for “them”
does violence to the individual.
Every “one of them” has a name,
Every “one of them” is a child of God,
A person of worth,
Who is equally loved and cared for by the One who created
Jesus died for every “one of them,”
An equal sacrifice,
Just as he died for me.
The traps of this simple parable are harsey and contempt,
But God’s gift of absurdly generous grace
Turns the world upside down.
Grace comes to none other than the foil of this parable:
The tax collector!
No one saw that coming!
The twist of this parable would have taken the breath away
from Jesus’ audience.
It should take our breath away, too.
Let’s talk about tax collectors,
People like Zacheus,
In the time of Jesus.
Tax collectors were notoriously corrupt.
They were hired contractors who worked on behalf of the Roman Empire,
The enemy occupiers of Israel.
These scoundrels would collect taxes
In neighborhoods, on highways, in markets, and at the dock.
Their take was anything they could collect above and beyond the Empire’s regulation.
They were dishonest, greedy, opportunist, collaborators;
Willing to victimize their own neighbors, family members, and friends.
Jesus, a respected Rabbi, associating with tax collectors would be scandalous in the eyes of every observant Jew.
Why would Jesus spend time with the likes of this?
(Mobster video clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nHNHIDduH4)
In the parable, the tax collector stands far off.
He was probably afraid the roof of the Temple would collapse on him if stepped through the door.
He beats his breast, begs God for mercy, and confesses his sin.
He doesn’t promise to repent or change.
He doesn’t offer to go get an honest job.
He doesn’t volunteer to join the underground and become a part of the resistance.
“This man went down to his home justified,” Jesus declared.
The Pharisee had written him off.
But God had not.
The tax collector could only speak of his own brokenness.
And he is exalted.
Fully restored by God.
Such is the nature of God’s absurdly generous grace.
This parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector
Warns us of the dangers of righteousness.
Living according to the law has mostly an upside to it, but
Yet, it has dangers.
The danger is that our trust can turn away from God.
We can turn inward,
trusting in ourselves,
Not in God.
We are warned of contempt;
For it reveals spiritual superiority,
Unsightly disdain for children of God.
We’ve been warned.
Don’t fall into the trap.
Indeed, even the most righteous of us,
are in need of contrition, repentance, and forgiveness.
This parable resolves itself,
Completes the square,
In God’s absurdly generous grace;
A core characteristic of God.
We are launched into the upside down world of Jesus,
Where those who exalt themselves will be humbled,
And those who humble themselves will be exalted.
So, be humbled.
Seek God’s mercy.
Confess sins; the big, the little, the intentional, even those unknown.
Abide in this upside down world of Jesus
known as the Kingdom of God.