Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Approximate Notes for Sunday Message; Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Luke 18:9-14 NIV

9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men– robbers, evildoers, adulterers– or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

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Parables are simple and memorable stories. Parables have layers of meaning and they can be interpreted in a variety of different ways depending on where we are on our walk with God. Jesus gave these stories to his followers in order to challenge them and make them think. Jesus taught in parables so that his followers would learn to pay attention, to reflect and to think, to recognize God’s presence and guidance in their lives, and to recognize their own impact on the world around them. Parables are stories that paint for us a picture of who we are today and give us a vision of who we MIGHT  want  to become tomorrow. The parables of Jesus have changed the world and will continue to do so as long as there is intelligent life anywhere in the universe.

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There was a certain historical and cultural context in which Jesus preached this sermon. When the followers of Jesus heard what we today call the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14), they heard, understood, interpreted and lived this sermon through the context of their daily lives. Just like that, there is a certain historical and cultural context in which we read, hear, interpret, understand and live this parable in our own lives.

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Knowing that Pharisees are regularly cast in the gospels as Jesus’ opposition, it is tempting for us to understand the Pharisee to be a self-righteous hypocrite and assume that the moral of this story is to be humble. It was not the case for Jesus’ original hearers. Pharisees were held in high esteem in first century Judea and Galilee. They were the men and women who organized Sunday Schools. They were the men and women who visited their neighbors when somebody was sick. They were the men and women who got together to help widows and orphans in need. They were the men and women who were the pillars of their community. They were the men and women who took the time to educate neighborhood children and to make sure that they knew how to read and write in the hopes that when these children grew up they were able to improve their lot in life. We are not explicitly told where Jesus learned to read and write but in Luke 4:16-17 we heard that Jesus took a scroll and read from it. More than likely, young Jesus learned to read and write in a Sunday school organized and led by the Pharisees.

When Jesus started telling the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, his hearers expected that the Pharisee would be elevated and praised.

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By contrast, tax collectors were not men whom anyone particularly liked. The tax collector probably also learned to read and write in a Sunday school led by the Pharisees. Each Tax Collector also made a choice to side with the Romans. To be a Tax Collector, one had to purchase the office from the Romans, one was told by the Romans how much tax to levy on his neighbors and that person had to extort extra money so that he and his family could live on that income. When Jesus started telling this story, his hearers expected that the Tax Collector in today’s story would be exposed, shamed and humiliated.

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I cannot help but wonder whether Jesus told this parable when someone in the “IN” crowd was belittling someone in the “OUT” crowd.

All of us have helped our neighbors just like the Pharisee in today’s story. Who among us has not been compelled to help a neighbor in need, who among us has not helped out in church at one time or another, who among us does not like being exalted and held in a position of esteem, who among us has not prayed something like, “Thank you Lord for all the blessings!” or “Thank you Lord for sparing me from this disaster!?”

And who among us has not done something that we are not particularly proud of? Who among us has not done something that we would be horrified if someone else found out? If I had a nickel for every time that I heard someone say, “I should go to church more often” I would be able to fund lots of missions. Who among us has not kneeled at the altar praying, “Lord, I don’t even know what to ask for today because I feel so low.”

Jesus taught in parables so that his followers would learn to pay attention, to reflect and to think, to recognize God’s presence and guidance in their lives, and to recognize their own impact on the world around them. All of us have been in both the Pharisee’s shoes and the Tax Collector’s shoes at one time or another. We need both types of experiences in our lives; we learn from both; we grow in wisdom and devotion to God as a result of both. From the Tax Collector moments we recognize our need for God, from the Pharisee moments we recognize our brokenness.

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We need “Tax Collector” experiences because it is in those times that we recognize our brokenness and we are reminded of our need for God’s Grace and Presence in our lives. The “Tax Collector” moments challenge us to apply ourselves and grow stronger in our faith. It is through that brokenness that we strive to reapply ourselves. It is through that brokenness that we learn to love God stronger, to see God clearer and to follow God nearer every day of our lives (prayer of Richard of Chichester).

When we become consciously aware that we are in the “Pharisee” phase, we are reminded that all that we have is a gift from God, given to us for the time being. When we become consciously aware that we are in the “Pharisee” phase of our lives, we are reminded where our blessings come from and our hearts are broken by our own sinfulness.

The “Tax Collector” moments strengthen our own faith and remind us of our brokenness. It is in those moments that our faith grows deeper and we learn to recognize God’s Grace and Presence around us. The “Tax Collector” moments challenge us to apply ourselves and grow stronger in our faith.

The “Pharisee” moments remind us that all that we have is a gift from God, given to us for the time being. The “Pharisee” moments remind us where our blessings come from. {Parable of the talents – Matt 25:14-30}

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The “Pharisee” and the “Tax Collector” moments happen repeatedly in our lives. Life is a series of ups and downs, life is a series of realizations and conclusions. During the “Tax Collector” moments we realize how dependent we are on God’s presence in our lives, we learn to love God deeper and stronger, to see God more clearly and to follow God more closely. The things that we realize and learn during these times challenge us and lead us to do things for the glory of God.

Recognizing the “Pharisee” moments give us opportunities to continue to recognize our need for God’s Grace and as a result to strive to be tools in God’s hands.

Luke 18:10-14 NIV

10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray … 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men– robbers, evildoers, adulterers– or even like this tax collector. …’ 13 “But the tax collector … would not even look up to heaven … and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled [ and exposed], and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

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{Celebrating the Sacrament of the Holy Communion}

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