Elizabeth’s sermon preached on Oct. 23, 2022

Posted by on Sun, Oct 23, 2022 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The 20th Sunday after Pentecost

Oct. 23, 2022

Today’s gospel gives us the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. I really wrestled with this Gospel. Parables are never as they appear on the surface. There is such breadth and depth to them, and I find I understand them a bit differently each time I hear them, as I grow and mature in my faith.

I wrestled with this one because it felt a little too… “this or that.” I find myself wondering, if this happened in real life, what would have happened after the two of them left the temple. What had happened before they arrived? Did anything change in the hearts and minds of either of them? There was a lot of unanswered questions, pondering, and room for imagining since it is so short.

We have one person who is of a “respectable” social class, and another person who is not. Let’s get to know these two figures.

Imagine with me what the Pharisee is like. A devout man who is highly respected and well received. He is a pillar of Jewish Society. He is a role model as he follows the commandments, and because he fasts exactly twice a week, and tithes 10 percent he does not consider himself a sinner. Yes, he looks down on others, but thinks he is justified in doing so. Maybe he thinks that he’s not just following God’s law; he thinks he is going above and beyond.

He goes to the temple to pray, as one should. He enters and finds a place to stand alone, near the front, so others can see how favored he is. He takes a deep breathe, looks up, and starts to pray aloud to God about all the things he is not, while looking down on others during his prayer. He is the perfect golden child! But he does not open himself up to God, although he thinks he does.

Then we have the tax collector. The Roman government has given him a contract to collect taxes from his peers and due to his role, he is viewed more harshly be the community he works in, especially since tax collectors are notorious for collecting more taxes than required, using force if needed, and pocketing the rest. He would have gone door to door collecting the taxes, perhaps forcibly at times, from people he grew up with, like a thug collecting money for his boss,

He lives in fear that if he does not meet his quota, Rome will take the money from his family. There have possibly been times he has made some hard choices to get the money, but his family is important to him. I wonder if that tax collector thought he didn’t have the skills to do something else, so he stayed being the tax collector for this area.      

After a long day out in the hot, dusty streets he has met his quota and heads for home, exhausted. He passes the temple and decides to come in and pray.

As he sets foot in this sacred place, the air feels a little cooler, the dust is not blowing around, a peaceful quiet envelopes the room, and a change comes over him.  He is suddenly overcome with shame, and he feels he is unworthy to step foot in this sacred place. He stands near the back and keeps his eyes down, slightly hunched over, and confesses his sins to God. Knowing all his sins, he bares his soul, beats his chest, and cries out for mercy.

The pharisee views himself as who he wants to be and wears his pride like a badge of honor, out where everyone can see it. Even his posture shows how proud he is with himself. It can be hard to see our own shortcomings. It is only when we do see our faults that we can grow in our lives and in our faith.

I imagine the tax collector feels some guilt and shame. Being faced with these, doesn’t know what to do and is humbled. Like the pharisee, we see this in his stance and body language. Instead of standing proud and bold, he is looking down, maybe hunched over a little, beating his chest asking for mercy: “I need you God, will you still have me, knowing what I’ve done?”

Only one other time in Luke does someone beat their chest, and that’s after Jesus’ crucifixion, When the bystanders saw “what took place, they beat their breasts and went away.” The tax collector displays that finding of remorse and guilt, humbling himself and repenting. ‘“God be merciful to me, a sinner”, will you still accept me, knowing all I have done?’

We have an example of false pride and another example of humility.

I take a lot of pride in my skills and competency as an ASL Interpreter. When I took and passed the National Interpreter Certification exam there was only a 29% pass rate at the time. I was pretty darn ecstatic! Did I post that on Facebook? Absolutely. Did I change my email signature to reflect that, you bet I did. I go to workshops to keep my knowledge and skills current, I research newer generation slang and idioms, and various content I might hear on any given day. There have been times when I have proud of my work and other times when I have been overly prideful thinking.

I might be a certified ASL Interpreter, but I know some amazing interpreters who did not pass the exam because they are not good test takers. We all come from different backgrounds, different stories, which affects little nuances in our signing style. I am not the right match for every consumer I work with, or assignment that comes up, even though I have a certification to my name, and that is ok, even if it can be hard to accept.

None of us are perfect, but there is a fine balance between being proud of what we have accomplished and being humble enough to recognize that we cannot do this on our own. True humility is accepting ourselves as we are, recognizing not only our sins and shortcomings, but acknowledging and accepting the gifts we have been given as well.

At first glance, Jesus’ parable seemed so “this or that” for me, but I think that Jesus exaggerates the characters to make his point sink in to his listeners. To be human is more of a both/and, rather than an either/or. We are made in God’s image AND we are sinners, and God loves us anyway.

Thomas Merton wrote: “Pride makes us artificial, and humility makes us real… It is supreme humility to see that ordinary life, embraced with perfect faith, can be more saintly and more supernatural than a spectacular ascetical career. Such humility dares to be ordinary, and that is something beyond the reach of spiritual pride. Pride always longs to be unusual. Humility not so. Humility finds all its peace in hope, knowing that Christ must come again to elevate and transfigure ordinary things and fill them with His glory.” (Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island, p. 118-120)

In humbling ourselves before God, we allow God’s power to radiate through us and to work in our lives.

Later during the service, we will have our confession. I ask that you let the words soak in, let them flow within you, and give up to God those things that are weighing you down. We have all sinned, we make mistakes, and we can always reach out to God for help, forgiveness, and mercy.       

It is written: “All who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Amen. May it be so.

© 2022 Elizabeth Holland. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

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