The self-righteous Pharisee and the tax collector

In today's daily office reading Jesus tells this parable.

Luke 18:9-14 The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
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.” NRSV

I want to learn from this passage. However, I know I can be Pharisaical myself. There are plenty of posts here I have still not removed judging gay Christians and emergent Christians. I used to judge Christians who did not read the King James Bible. I think the only person I can judge is myself and trust in Jesus, not myself, for righteousness.

I'm interested in the power dynamics in this parable. Location makes all the difference. Outside the temple, the tax collector has power over the Pharisee. He can demand Rome's taxes from this guy and add whatever margin he wants to make this smug creep wince. Inside the temple, the Pharisee has the authority. Inside the temple the Pharisee can pray loud enough to make the traitor to his people by working for their oppressors wince.

This is a cycle of revenge that can go on so easily. But it needs to be broken. Before a loving parent, all children are equally loved. No children are perfect, but we are all imperfect in different ways.

When one child shoves down another to get closer to the beloved parent, the normal parent will gather up the hurt child first. Jesus makes this point repeatedly, the first will be last, the last will be first...sit at the last seat at the table so you may be elevated to the seat of honor and, in this parable, all who humble themselves will be exalted.

How does that play out in 2017 America? I don't think it has changed much. St. Francis and his followers chose to be with the outcast and the downcast, hanging out with the poor and the lepers and even the Egyptian army during the crusades. He may have observed that in the gospels where Jesus hangs out with the religious minorities, the oppressors, and the lepers. So who are those disparaged in our temples today? It probably depends on your temple. Are minorities and outcasts welcomed there? Undocumented migrants? Muslim refugees? Disenfranchised people with darker skin? Sexual minorities? Am I glad I am not like them or do I choose to be like Jesus and incarnate myself in their world as best I can, and, like Christ, leave my privilege behind so that I may serve them?


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