On the Other Side
One day a young man, journeying home, came to the banks of a river swollen by recent torrential rains. Staring hopelessly at the great obstacle in front of him, he pondered for hours on how to cross such a wide barrier. Beginning to despair, resigning himself to the impossibility of the feat, he was about to turn around when he saw a great teacher from his village on the other side raging rapids. Surely this wise one will know the answer to my dilemma! The young man, cupping his hands over his mouth to be heard, yells at the top of his voice, “Sir, can you tell me how to get to the other side of this river?” The teacher stood still, pondered for a moment, smiled and called back, “My son ‘you are on the other side”.
What was impossible for one to see was easy for the other.
9He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The 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. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13But 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!’ 14I 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.”
Here’s what’s happening in out text…
Luke tells us in v9, Jesus begins speaking about:
Of course we automatically think of the religious leaders listening in, those who are trying to gain more power, notoriety, prestige, money and political strength. Jesus, however, is peaking primarily to the disciples, others who want to be his followers.
Jesus knows who’s in the crowd and has used religious leaders as examples, warnings, of how NOT to follow him. In Luke 12v1-2 Jesus cautioned his disciples against “the yeast of the pharisees.” He knows religious snobbery, religious hypocrisy, can worm it’s way into any would be follower.
The disciples exhibit the “snobbery virus” in:
Luke 18v15 Some people brought children to Jesus to have him hold them. When the disciples saw this, they told the people not to do that. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Don’t stop the children from coming to me! Children like these are part of the kingdom of God. 17 I can guarantee this truth: Whoever doesn’t receive the kingdom of God as a little child receives it will never enter it.”
Jesus understood the condition of the human heart that tempts humankind to compare ourselves to others. One of the central teachings of Luke is the Kingdom of God is inhabited by the least of these. Treatment of the undesirables reveals our love for God. To think of oneself as better than, higher than, more worthy than, not as bad as, more holy, more Godly than…well, anyone…is to violate one of the key tenets of the teachings of Jesus.
Jesus tells the crowd a story…
…about a religious leader, a Pharisee, a pinnacle of societal and religious prestige and a tax collector, an enemy, a traitor and thief. You could not be more different than these two. All who listened, including the disciples viewed the Pharisees as respected and honored by all and the tax collector a money grubbing, low life who steals from hard working Israelites.
18v10“One time there was a Pharisee and a tax collector. One day they both went to the Temple to pray. 11 The Pharisee stood alone, away from the tax collector. When the Pharisee prayed, he said, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not as bad as other people. I am not like men who steal, cheat, or commit adultery. I thank you that I am better than this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, and I give a tenth of everything I get!’ 13 “The tax collector stood alone too. But when he prayed, he would not even look up to heaven. He felt very humble before God. He said, ‘O God, have mercy on me. I am a sinner!’
Jesus begins his tale by speaking of something most in the crowd have done many times, go to the temple to pray.
Two men, at the same place, at the same time, not the same attitude…
“The Pharisee, (and) the tax man enter the Temple. The proud, religious leader, assured of himself and his exceeding righteousness clears his throat, dusts off his clothes, looks around, hoping someone might be eavesdropping, and begins…‘Oh, God! I am so incredibly grateful today that you have made me…well me. I am so relieved that that I am not like other low life types, robbers, thieves, crooks, sexual miscreants, or (rolling his eyes, fanning himself, throwing up a little in his mouth and shuddering at the thought), heaven forbid (pointing, not daring to look), like this, ugh, tax man.
Just in case you forgot, weren’t paying attention, or know how good I am so you worry about other less desirables, I fast twice a week and tithe on ALL (elongating and emphasizing words) ‘MY’ (isn’t this word telling?) my income.’” Finishing his prayer, smiling like a Cheshire cat, clearly pleased with himself, he snorts at the absurdity of sharing the same air with the tax collector, hikes his nose high in the stratosphere and goes home.
“Meanwhile’, Jesus says softly, ‘the tax man, stays in the shadows, not daring to stand up straight, his face in his hands, not daring to look up embodying the spirit of
Psalm 51, ‘knowing he has a bad record, guilt that needs to be scrubbed away, sin stains which need God’s laundry. He knows how bad he’s been; his sins are staring him down. He’s violated God’s laws and knows God sees the full extent of his evil. If God judged him as worthless and sent him to hell it would be a fair sentence. He’s been out of step with God for a long time and in the wrong for as long as he can remember. He knows he’s dirty and is nowhere near ‘snow-white.”
He needs a fresh start. Barely able to get out the words for fear of being struck down he whispers; ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’”
We know the outcome of the story but imagine you are hearing it for the first time. What are you thinking? What’s Jesus’ point? Who’s coming out of this story on top? The Pharisees are known for their hypocrisy and lacking in the fundamentals of God’s Kingdom but the tax man is still worse, right?
Who’s Jesus going to hold up as the example?
18v14 Jesus (says), “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”
18v14 (Jesus declares) …(of the two)… men walking back down the road to their homes…. it’s the tax collector who walks home clean before God, and not the Pharisee, because whoever lifts himself up will be put down and whoever takes a humble place will be lifted up.
18v14 (Jesus concludes) I tell you, this (tax collector) went to his house justified rather than the (Pharisee); for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The tax man goes home pure and right before God, not the religious elite and if the same situation takes place again the following week, same attitudes, same outcome. The one who is humble, not the one who keeps every law, is right before God.
Remember Jesus says in…
Luke 17v3&4 “If a believer sins, correct him. If he changes the way he thinks and acts, forgive him. 4 Even if he wrongs you seven times in one day and comes back to you seven times and says that he is sorry, forgive him.” 5 Then the apostles said to the Lord, “Give us more faith!”
He wouldn’t instruct his disciples to be this way if he, God, wasn’t this way.
It didn’t make sense to the disciples in 17, the crowd in 18 or to us in today in 2013. We are fine with the tax man getting grace, the uppity Pharisee his rightful “smack down” but we want both of them to amend their ways, get a fresh start, and then become good little rule followers.
Once again, in Jesus’ upside down kingdom, the church goer, the rule follower, the socially and religiously acceptable one is worse off than the outright, no excuse, low down sinner. Jesus takes a bat to our pinata of goodness and whacks it until the illusion of anything good in us spills onto the ground. We are not ever capable of standing in God’s presence and claiming to be better than anyone!
This is either disappointing or delightfully good news! For those who are certain there’s something good in us, at least a little better than some of the worst of the worst, this can be hard to swallow.
For others who know the depth of their depravity it takes the weight of hell off our shoulders.
So not only is being righteous before God, being seen by God as clean, pure, impossible in our own power, so is understanding God’s Kingdom ways.
Shifting faith from a what (laws and good works) to who. Not in ourselves, a rabbit trail of delusion which leads to nowhere, but in Jesus who’s going to Jerusalem to make all who are dirty, that’s everyone, clean.
Psalm 84 – “How lovely is your presence, O Lord, God Almighty. We long for the presence of the Lord today. Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are Your ways and who trust in Your love to make us clean in Your eyes. May we know a day trusting in You is better than a thousand trusting in our own power to save us. O’ Lord, do not withhold Your goodness from us. Blessed are those who trust in you. Amen.”
Posted on October 27, 2013, in Mindfulness and tagged #God, #inspire, #journey, #kindness, #Lectionary, #life, #Luke, #mindful, #wisdom, #zen, Christ, Christianity, Jesus, Luke's Gospel, meditation, Parable of the Unjust Judge, Religion and Spirituality, Son of man. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.