Pharisee And Tax Collector
Two Kinds Of People
There are two kinds of people in this congregation.
There are dog lovers
And there are cat lovers.
Can we just find out which they are.
Dogs and cats peculiar animals, there seems to be a different mentality to those two animals. Me I’m a dog lover more than a cat lover, which is why this next piece probably appeals, this is on the internet, and also I got it from a talk by John Ortberg, for whom I am grateful for so much of what is being said today.
Dogs and Cats
So here’s the dog. Doesn’t that just tell you everything you need to know about the dog right there? And
this is what the dog wrote in his journal:
8:00: Dog food…my favorite thing.
9:30: A car ride…my favorite thing.
9:40: Walk in the park…my favorite thing.
10:30: Got rubbed and petted…my favorite thing.
12:00: Lunch…my favorite thing.
3:00: Wagged my tail…my favorite thing.
5:00: Milk Bones…my favorite thing.
8:00: Wow, watched TV with the people…my favorite thing.
11:00: Sleeping on the bed…my favorite thing.
That’s a dog’s heart.
Now, excerpts from a cat’s diary… That will tell you everything you need to know right there.
Day 983 of
my captivity…my captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects.
Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength. The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape. In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet.
Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates what I am capable of. However, they merely made condescending comments about what a “good little hunter” I am.
Today I was almost
successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormenters by weaving around his feet as he was
walking. I must try this again tomorrow, but at the top of the stairs.
Two Kinds Of People
Two kinds of people – dog people, cat people
Two kinds of people – happy people, resentful people
Two kinds of people in this Church – people who come to Church often, people who come seldom
Two kinds of people says Jesus, people who are justified before God
People who are not justified before God.
And there is a temptation to draw a line,
To make equations between these two types of people.
The people who go out justified, made right with God,
Those are clearly the dog people
The people unjustified, people whose relationship with God is distorted, distant
Those are the people who like cats.
The people who come to Church often, they are the ones right before God
The people who come to Church seldom, them and God are strangers.
Or in a peculiar kind of reverse logic
The people that come to Church often, repressed, hypocritical joyless, not right before God
The people who come to Church seldom, reliant, free of neurosis, able to spot God on a hillside, on a golf course, not needing organised religion, them and God are justified.
Or the happy people, the gift people. Right before God
Or the resentful people, the entitlement people, Not right before God.
And this story of Jesus, completely messes up that thinking.
Muddies the water, between who comes to this place, and their relationship with God is sorted, justified
And those who are not sorted, unjustified, unright before God.
But there is good news for these people,
Those people who are not right before God
This story is actually for them.
This is not a story of the people who are right before God
No, we are told right at the start, this is for the people not sorted before God
The messed up people, the proud people,
This story is for them.
It might be a story to confirm them in their guilt
Or it might be a hugely provocative story which unmasks the layers of fraud, and artifice within them
This searing, ouch of a story,
Pierces through the front, and allows the real them to be right before God.
If you are messed up before God this morning, there is hope
There are two characters who come into the temple
And the first is a Pharisee.
Now Pharisees do not have a good press, ever since Jesus really.
But in Jesus day there was a lot to be said for the Pharisees.
They were the ones who had fought to preserve the traditions of Moses, ever since their founder, a reformer called Ezra
And against the Babylonians, then against the Greeks, then against the Romans
They had kept the traditions going.
They were not crazed by power like their opponents the Sadducees
But the Pharisees, they were popular with the people in the country,
And they had a good track record
And Jesus himself was a real close to being a Pharisee himself in his teaching
Far closer than he was to the Sadducees.
So the Pharisee comes up to the temple
And he stands apart from everyone else there,
And he prays.
“I thank you God,” the word in Greek is Eucharisto,
“I thank you Oh God,
That I am not Greedy, the word here is viciously greedy, a loan shark, a crook, a gangster,
And this is good, and it is good that he gives God the credit
And I thank you that I am not dishonest, and he can pride himself on never telling lies, he is like me, he will go out of his way to be honest
And he is not an adulterer, he has behaved himself,
So glad he is not these things.
And then he begins to list his accomplishments
I fast two times a week – now this is loaded language, people in Israel were only required to fast one day a year, Leviticus 25, the ancient Jewish Torah lays out the arrangements for a special day of atonement, Yom Kippur, the day of wiping away sins, the Hebrew word meant to wipe away, the Greek word related meant the day that God’s anger got turned back, but this guys was putting in serious credit, twice a week
That anger is well away
That sin is wiped away, not just wiped but cleansed with Cillet Bang, and then boiled in a steriliser for 25 minutes
I tithe everything – now this too is loaded
In those days you gave a tenth of what you got,
You gave it to the temple, to the priests called the Levites.
The idea being that you gave it to God.
But not on everything
There were certain products, wine, grain and oil, where the producer gave away the tithe, so you didn’t have to
There were certain other products where some of the Rabbis said, you don’t have to tithe on this stuff
One of the ancient Jewish texts says “you are not required to tithe on other products, like for example celery”
Celery, no tithing,
You can imagine the Levites with folk giving them celery, not thanks, no celery
Not even God likes celery.
And the idea here is that the Pharisess is pulling his weight, he is doing more than enough. If everybody did what he did, there would hundreds of priests, hundreds of synagogues, every one of them teaching Torah, teaching the ten commandments, and as a result of that everything would just be better, there would be less theft, lower murder rate, infintessimally small amounts of adultery, no one would tell lies.
So all the problems with murder, with adultery, with lying,
Are because there are not enough people like me.
And there is another man
A tax collector.
A tax collector was barely allowed in the temple, he would have been by himself, because he was in the outer courts, and not many sinners like him would dare to come to temple
And there is a temptation to think, he was just misunderstood
But it’s more than that
He is a collaborator, he has turned his back on his own people to welcome in the pagan Romans,
His crime is treachery
He has overcharged
Poor people remain poor because of the likes of this man exploiting them
He is a loan Shark
He is a collaborator
He is a drug dealer
Dare I say it, he is a paedophile
He is not misunderstood
He is a bad bad man
He is lucky to be in the temple
And then he prays a prayer
A simple prayer
O God, same beginning as the Pharisee
God wipe away the sin of me a sinner
And they are thinking is that it
They are thinking you need more than that
You need to produce fruit in keeping with repentance
Some kind of evidence that this is not just words coming from this mans mouth
Some serious attempt at religion
At least put some effort into it
“God have mercy on me” actually the word is “God wipe away”, or “God turn away your anger from me”
And you say, at least he knows he has failed, but that is not enough
It is not enough just to say you are sorry,
We need to know that you mean it
A couple of tithes, the odd fast
Something to let us know this is more than just words
And then Jesus say,
Truly I tell you, one of these men left the temple justified, right with God
It was the tax collector, not the Pharisee.
It was the tax collector.
What curious logic,
How odd of God,
Is this perversity by God,
Some kind of cruel trick
That all the religious have got it wrong
And actually the ones who have got it are the ones who have the courage to go it alone, to reject God, are right with God?
It is impossible to read Luke chapter 18 without thinking of some words that were first written about 30 years after Jesus first told his story.
They were written by one of his followers, the apostle Paul
Who was writing to deal with this very same charge
That God was perverse
That God was condemning good living Pharisees
Whilst wicked tax collectors were getting away with it.
Paul said you have to throw two more things into the equation here:
The first is this,
None of us make it.
The pharisee, sure he has his tithing, and he has his fasting
But did you not hear just a hint in his description of the violent, the greedy, the adulterers, just a hint of envy.
That you read about Tommy Sheridan, and half of you condemns, and half you thinks “sounds like he’s having a great time”
Or you have what I have, Range Rover envy, or envy of people who have money.
And there is this need to keep impressing,
When was the day, that he decided one fast a year wasn’t enough
And perhaps he needed two
Then once a month
And that wasn’t enough so once a week
And then twice a week.
When was the first day he tithed his oil
Tithed his grain
Tithed his celery
That sure, partly in these things was a freedom
as the belief that these things made him better,
And he got twisted in the reason he did them
When was the day he first looked down on the tax collector
Or the guy who fasted once a year
Or even the guy who fasted once a week
Recently I was at a conference, where to save costs we were asked if we might share twin rooms with another minister,
The way it happened the guy I was sharing with could only stay one night
So one morning I was in the room with him
And one morning I was in the room by myself.
On one of the mornings I got up early, I prayed for at least half an hour, and I made copious notes on my Bible reading for the day
And on one of the mornings I slept in, had a much shorter time in prayer and Bible reading, and also watched a bit of tele.
Which one of these mornings was the morning the other minister was in the room
And which one these was the morning the minister was away.
And when I looked through my Bible notes, and noted the minister next to me was reading a novel, by Terry Pratchett, what do think my attitude was.
I attend presbytery meetings and Session meetings,
And a frequent thought I have is
“I thank God that I am not as stupid as you”
“you are not half as good as you think you are”.
So there is pride
There is hypocrisy
There is making a show of your righteousness
There is sharp minded condemnation of those who read Terry Pratchett books in the morning, or who in my mind are not as sharp as me.
We all fall short
It is just that some of us are better at hiding it than others
That’s the first thing Paul throws in,
We all fall short,
We all got sin on that sin-plate,
We all need some serious wiping.
But the second thing is this,
Paul says, there was a man that died, the man that told the first story, Jesus
And he died though he was perfect,
And in him
The wiping away was done, the word is exactly the same word as the tax collector uses,
There was a wiping away,
Or a turning back of the anger of God.
It wasn’t the tithing that did the wiping
It wasn’t the grain, the wine or the celery – that did the wiping
It wasn’t the fast last week, – that did the wiping
or the one the week before – the wiping
it was not the avoidance of murder, or greed, or adultery
In fact nothing that the Pharisee did, did the wiping
He wiped with his tithing, and then came the pride – more wiping required
He wiped with this fasting, and then came the contempt – more wiping required
It was Jesus that did the wiping,
With his own blood, in his death.
And the question is, will you let him.
Will you just let him
When you beat your breast as that tax collector did, you somehow acknowledge the deep pain that is in your heart,
Sometimes literal pain in your heart, in your chest
Because in our chest, in our anxieties, or in our clogged arteries, hide our running away from sin,
Do you acknowledge,
And then say, O God wipe this away, this sin, from me a sinner,
And God does.
There are two types of people in this Church, walking away today
And there will be some who are right before God, and some who are not.
And it won’t be the dog lovers or the cat lovers
It won’t be the ones who have been honest, and the ones who had affairs
It won’t be the ones who have said long prayers, and ones who can only pray a little
It won’t be the ones who have got up early and said prayers, and the ones who have read Terry Pratchett books
It won’t be the ones who are happy, and the ones who are embattled
It will be the ones who had the courage, just to admit that they had screwed up
And with brutal honesty said
I can’t do the wiping away here.
God wipe away my sins, from me a sinner.
That tax collector, there must be some conviction about God that brings him to that temple, that convinces him that God can do something about his heavy conscience, his corrupt lifestyle, his need, his pride, his bitterness, his resentment.
And in his short prayer, his lack of need to keep praying, there must be a sense that God does.
And the Good News is that in Jesus Christ, God did, God wiped away the son of the world.
And the question I say to you all
Whether you have been coming here for years
Or this is your first time,
Just in the silence, will you, will you, will you say the very short prayer with me
“Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner”