Listening to Parables

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:** ”Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“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.’ ~ Luke 18:9-13

The first sentence of this paragraph sets the context so very well. Listen to it again, To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:

Jesus had no patience for religious people who arrogantly and self-righteously placed themselves above others.  Religious people who saw themselves with all the answers and despising anyone who asked any of the questions. Religious people who reduced a relationship with God down to a check list. Do this and this and don’t do these things over here and you will be in great shape.

I was once told by a friend that the church he attended growing up was in a beach community in southwest Florida. He described that in the summertime sometimes people would walk into Sunday service wearing flip-flops. Shorts. T-shirts. Some came in the doors with the aroma of suntan lotion. The church board met. Something had to be done. The house of God was not being respected. The board decided to post a sign by the front door of the church. The sign described the appropriate dress for church. Slacks and dress shirts and dress shoes for the guys. And dresses and dress shoes for the ladies. No sundresses. No tee shirts. No sandals or flip-flops. Then it said visitors welcomed.

Ironically over time their unwelcomed visitors quit coming. So did other visitors. Over the years the church just began to dry up. Funerals began to take out some of the treasured leadership of the church. The church struggled to survive.

It is amazing to me how and where we draw our theological lines. We have definite opinions about what is acceptable and what we would never allow in the church. Some folks draw the line on Hymns only. Piano. Organ. Only just like the early church. Absolutely no singing those projected on the wall Scripture choruses.

Others may say KJV only. It was good enough for Paul. It’s good enough for us.

Ironically, we get so comfortable in our own righteousness, and we become passionate guardians of this institution called the church. We protect her from all opponents both foreign and domestic. And granted there are things we need to protect the church from. But sometimes we loss sight of the main purpose of the church. Reaching broken people with the good news of Jesus. Sometimes we need a wakeup call to remind us that sometimes those broken people show up wearing sandals, and shorts, and have the aroma of suntan lotion.

We should never forget that in the gospels, we read on many occasions where Jesus makes it a point to reach out to those who are marginalized and ignored by society. People who normally don’t make it in the front door of the church.

In this parable Luke highlights a tax collector. Tax collectors were some of the most despised individuals in first century culture. When Jesus mentions a tax collector, he has everyone’s attention. The tax collector becomes the hero. He is the hero because of his attitude of humility. He understood his profound need for mercy. His need for forgiveness. He understands exactly who he is and his perception in society. Notice the words Jesus’ uses to wrap up this teaching:

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

The listeners would have been totally offended.

But Jesus proves his point. There was probably whispering in the crowd. People saying to each other, “Did Jesus really just say that about a tax collector?”

But maybe in using the tax collector as the example of humility his listeners might realize that a relationship with God is not based on religiosity or man-made religious traditions or how well you are dressed. It is based on humbling seeking for more of God and seeking Him with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

In Jesus name amen.