Sunday’s Scripture – October 27, 2019
The Pharisee was the example of an ideal religious person. He attended the temple, he prayed, he fasted two times a week, and gave ten percent of his income to the temple. To be identified as a Pharisee meant that you were a very important person among the Jewish people and you lived your life according to the scriptures so that people considered you “righteous.” But his prayer really was about his accomplishments and thankful that he was not like “other people.”
The tax collector was an example of a very unlikable person. Being a tax collector meant to collect money from the public for commodities such as food, drink, clothing, and shelter. But he did not earn an income through the collection of taxes. His job forced him to defraud others by extortion. He would take more than was required by the occupying government of Rome so that he could make a living. The citizens of Palestine despised his position and what it stood for. Yet it is the tax collector, not the religious man, who Jesus describes as justified. Why this idea of reversals? The tax collector’s prayer was a humble request for God to have mercy on him. He was standing far off in the distance, eyes down to the ground, beating on his chest saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Jesus says this is the humble man, this is the justified man because he seeks repentance from what his jobs asks him to do; extort money from those who do not have it!
In the parable, Jesus indicts the Pharisee who insists on meticulously following the law but neglects the love of another. Is it because the tax collector is virtuous and the Pharisee lacked personal virtue? If the Pharisee followed the Ten Commandments would that be enough? The issue does not seem to be about personal goodness. Rather, the parable is about a great reversal from the way things are. It is a parable about God. It is the tax collector rather than the Pharisee in this moment of encounter with God in the temple, has found God’s mercy and justice.
Jesus ends the parable saying, “for all who exalt themselves will be humbled but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
God’s mercy is available to all persons regardless of gender, age, culture, background, and current circumstances, yet we do not always believe that which we proclaim. Jesus concluded the parable that the humble will be exalted and the exalted will be humbled. The call to be humble encourages us to put our focus on our actions for others rather than our personal beliefs or accomplishments.
In a world where much is determined to be good or bad, right or wrong, Jesus’ parable encourages his followers that you do not have to always be right. We do not have make comparisons or judgments about others. Being humble gives us permission to admit when we do not understand or know something, admit faults, and be grateful about successes without boasting about them.
We can be more humble in our words and actions toward others. Being humble takes practice. It takes doing!
- What does the tax collector do that is acceptable to Jesus?
- What does the parable suggest we do?
- What does being humble look like?