The Great Reversal Part 4
March 19, 2017
‘The Pharisee and the Tax Collector’
Luke 18:9-14 Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
Luke 18:13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’
And then Jesus made his point, I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
In order for us to understand it better, we need to hear the story again, like Jesus’ initial first listeners.
You see, when Jesus told this story, about 2000 years ago, it had a certain… shock factor.
So I thought I would rewrite a contemporary version of the story that might shed some more light on it.
The title of my story is:
Todd and Joe Go to Church
“One Sunday Todd and Joe went to church.
Todd and Joe were very different people.
First of all Todd:
Todd was very familiar with going to church.
As far back as he could remember he went to church. His parents had taken him every single Sunday since he was a baby. Todd and his family lived right next door. In fact Todd’s dad, was the minister of the church.
Todd liked to be noticed, so every Sunday he wore his fanciest clothes to church.
He also thought he could grab some extra attention if he bought himself the biggest bible he could find.
He kinda liked the looks he got, so he always timed his entrance just right, and made his way to the very front of the church just seconds before the service started, carrying his big black floppy bible and sitting in the front so everyone could see him.
He made a big show bowing his head, and praying and singing really loud.
Todd thought it made him look holy and religious!
Todd liked the idea that people saw him as a young man who had his life all together.
He liked the image.
He felt very self righteous in his heart.
In fact, he felt that he was a lot better than everyone else.
He glowed with inner satisfaction.
Todd even thought, he really had nothing to confess. Nothing to say sorry for to anyone… not even to Almighty God himself, he was that good.
Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Joe.
Joe had slipped into the building and was sitting in the very back row.
Todd thought to himself, “Why is he here?”
“What right does Joe have to be in church.”
“That guy is a mess.”
“He has a troubled past.”
“What a hypocrite!”
Todd and Joe’s eyes met for a second, Joe quickly looked down at the floor.
He felt so…out of place, because he was thinking the very same thing… about himself.
You see Joe had not been in church for a very long time… so long, he couldn’t even remember when.
It was true, Joe did have a troubled past.
He had gotten involved with a couple of bad crowds, had a few run in’s with the police, and yes, Joe knew he had made a mess of his life at times.
That morning he felt like a hypocrite.
Why did he come to church anyway?
Was it because he had an argument with his mom that morning denying that he had stolen something from her purse?
Or was it because the night before he had tried to step over the line with his girlfriend, and then drown his sorrows with alcohol?
It was all of those things and neither of them.
You see, deep down in Joe’s heart he realized for the very first time how utterly wrong he had acted and even thought.
A guilt and shame had come over him. Joe was tired of the kind of life he was leading.
It was like the shades were being drawn back in the early morning bringing a stinging light, revealing the dirt in his life.
“Oh God”, he prayed, with tears filling his eyes. “Oh God I am sorry, please, please, help me get my life together.”…………………..
I tell you…it was Joe, not Todd who went home that day from church in right standing with God, a true believer.”
Well, There you have it.
Two different people, two hearts… two destinies.
Jesus told this story because he was surrounded by people who had an attitude like..Todd.
Jesus identifies them as the Pharisees.
They were religious leaders, the clergy, the ministers.
Not that all of them were bad, but many of them, had no sense of any kind of need for God.
They looked good on the outside, but on the inside they were critical, judgemental, self assured and self righteous, hidden under a religious veneer.
So Jesus contrasts them with the most, unreligious and unrighteous person you could imagine, a tax collector.
My apologizes, if there are any people here this morning who work for the Canadian tax services?
Now we might be a little put off by the whole paying tax thing, but in Jesus day, a tax collector was more like one of those war time enemy collaborators.
He was like the person in an occupied town whispering secrets to the enemy, so that some people, even neighbours, in the town were arrested and taken away. (The worst of the worst)
The tax collector in Jesus day worked for the enemy the Romans, the tax collector was like extortionists, they earned their living by taking more money than necessary, they were a disgrace. There was utter contempt towards people like this.
Two people who (on the surface) are at opposite ends of the moral spectrum.
You see Jesus tells this story to make a couple of shocking points:
First of all he tells it to reveal what God is like:
When in the early morning, we throw back the curtain into a pitch dark room: the light tends to reveal the imperfections, the dirt. God is like a search light. He knows what is going on in our hearts and minds.
The Pharisee prays:
‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man.
The prayer reveals the Pharisee’s heart.
He is simply telling God all his good points, while at the same time, denouncing the tax collector.
He compares himself with others, instead of taking an honest look at his own life.
Don’t get me wrong, being a robber, a crook or a cheater is not a good thing, Jesus is telling this story because he knows that robbery or cheating does not start with the deed, but begins in our hearts and minds.
God searches the human heart.
The pharisee says to himself, I’m a good guy. I am so good, I don’t even really need God.
The tax collector on the other hand has a bit more realistic view of his life.
It is reflected in his heart felt prayer: Take a look at the last bit:
Luke 18:13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘Oh God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’
It’s a pretty simple prayer.
In other words, the tax collector prays, “I need God.”
And instantly Jesus rewards his attitude:
And then Jesus made his shocking point, I tell you,
This sinner… Not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God.
In other words, he is made right with God:
Is approved by God. Forgiven by God. Given a new start, by God.
Jesus tells his story to tell us that God searches the human heart, and, the shocking fact, that absolutely no one is beyond God’s forgiveness and love.
Think about Todd and Joe, or the Pharisee and the tax collector, two different people, two kinds of inner life, and two eternal destinies.
What kind of person, what kind of heart do you have?
Let me lead us in this simple prayer:
“O God, the Creator, who sent your Son Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life to save me and all the world, I believe in your reality. Help my unbelief.
I long to understand all that it means to be loved, known, and forgiven by you, and to be remade and transformed into the person you designed me to be.
I know I have not always been the kind of person I should be, I know I have sinned against you, others, myself, and even the creation of which I am part.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Open my eyes to all that you are, and draw me closer to God, through Jesus Christ. Amen.