The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector raises the question of attitudes, and who a person relies on. It raises awkward and uncomfortable questions for us.
The Pharisee was not a nice man. He did his religious work well. He observed all the laws of Moses to the letter. You could hardly fault him for that. Jews believed the religious laws were a gift of God, which enabled humans to live a life which was as near to complete as possible. So what were the problems for this man?
I suggest 3. Firstly he was deluded. Second, his contempt for others he judged less worthy, particularly his contempt focussed on the tax man who stood nearby. This behaviour was not acceptable to Jesus. Thirdly, and principally, was the question of who this man really relied on, or trusted in. He was assured of his own goodness in obeying the laws. He was satisfied he was doing all God required of him. He thanked God not for what God did for him, but for what he did by himself. He did not need God he was he imagined or kidded himself - doing it all by himself and this for Jesus was the offence.
In contrast the tax collector. He had no delusions he knew he was bad. He did not excuse himself, or blame others. He threw himself on Gods mercy. That man went down home justified, rather than the other. Justification being made right with God, having all offences which interfere in a relationship with God set aside.
The key issues here are not about looking down on others, or judging yourself better than other people. Not even meticulous keeping of the laws given by God to make life better. It is simply do you trust in yourself to work out your salvation, or do you throw yourself totally upon the mercy of God, admitting that by yourself you can do nothing.
I want to reflect on the dilemma this poses for us. If we sincerely try and live as we believe we are commended to, keeping the great commandments to love God, and our neighbour as ourselves how are we supposed to feel? Should we take the Calvinistic line that says nothing we do is any good? That would be a tad unrealistic because there is good in what we do, and we ought to be honest enough to recognise it, and thank God for what we have done? But once we start to do that we risk becoming like the Pharisee, and taking pride in what we have managed to do. We might be entitled to do as he did and thank God we have not strayed or sinned (at least in some ways), but where does that leave us? Are we in peril of beginning to believe it was what we achieved by ourselves, or was it purely by the grace of God that we managed to do whatever we did?
The parable was to teach about people who trusted in themselves. The word is dont it does not work. The parable is really good news for all people. No matter how perverse one might be, what God seeks from them is the honesty of heart that realises there is no point in self delusion, and seeks instead an honest and humble naming of who we are. Receiving justification does not depend on how good you are, or what good things you achieved. God asks have you the heart to name who you are, and depend on me?
Christian life is not about outdoing one another in goodness or humility at Theological Hall we used to call that "aggressive humility". It is about confessing that God alone can set us right with him, and asking that of God. In baptising Fergus Cameron today, we have admitted him to the community for whom God promises I will be there for you, where you call on me, I will set aside your offences they will no longer have power to keep you apart from my love. Sarah and Jamie have been asked to think about how this is also true for them personally, as it is for all of you here. All it takes is to stand as the tax man did and cry have mercy on me, a sinner.
So Ferguss baptism is a source of joy and celebration for him and his family, and a reminder to us as community, of what God stands ready to offer us, and do for us. Who ever you are, this is good news of the best kind. And all you need to do is that be honest, stop kidding, and receive justification. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Most Valued Player
|Announcer||OK! Quiet please everybody were going to start the presentation. Well start with the under 8s. Will the She Cubs stand up please? Stop bouncing those balls! We cant hear a thing.|
|Charlie||The under 8s! How long is this going to take. Weve got to wait for all the little kids first. Will you look at those babies. I wonder what the best dribbler in that team gets? A bibby! (elbowing Jem) Heh get it dribbling. a bib!|
|Jem||Yes Charlie I get it.|
|Charlie||(after a pause) This is soooo boring I just want to get my award and go home.|
|Jem||Your award? Youre confident!|
|Charlie||Well, realistically Jem who else is going to get it? That 3 pointer in the grand final pretty much sealed it.|
|Jem||Ill admit it was a good shot.|
|Charlie||Good shot! It won us the game!|
|Jem||Yes it did Charlie. But dont you think that the coach will look at everyones performance over the season as whole?|
|Charlie||Yes he will Jem and mine will be hard to over look.|
|Jem||But what about Jacks defence work and Sallys scoring was pretty consistent.|
|Charlie||Theyre steady enough Jem but you know, well theyre basically just hacks. Ive got to be MVP.|
|Jem||Whats an MVP?|
|Charlie||(amazed and aghast) Whats an MVP? How could you not know what an MVP is? What planet have you been tripping on? MVP; most valued player or to fill in the blanks yours truly. Geez I hope Mum didnt forget the camera this time, she usually does. What pose should I use when they give me the trophy? (demonstrating the poses in an exaggerated manner) "Unrestrained delight, Barely concealed amazement I know Ill play it totally chilled like it happens every...|
The next person to bounce a ball will be removed from the stadium.
Now for the under 16 Overbiters. What a great season! Coach Driver tells me that this years most valued player is a real team player. A steady contributor always ready to pass the ball to someone in the best position for a shot at goal. This years MVP is. Jem!
|Jem||looks at Charlie; Did he say what I think he said?|
|Charlie||Yes but he couldnt have. Jem walks towards the announcer.|
|Charlie||(cry baby voice) He couldnt have.|