Two Sinners, One Grace
"He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
The Good News translation of the bible begins the gospel lesson in Luke 18 in this way:
Jesus also told this parable to people who were sure of their own goodness and despised everybody else.
The Message Bible begins like this:
He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people:
and the NIV like this:To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:
Jesus told this story to some who were, to people who were, to some who were
Who was he talking to? To His followers. His disciples. Who he must have been concerned that they were becoming: sure, confident complacently pleased with themselves
Because they were good, moral, upstanding, righteous people. They had been following Jesus all this time, the goodness would have to have begun to show up.
The sort of people we hope would come to our church: good, moral, upstanding, righteous people. I mean.
Now what this parable is not about is abandoning all pretext of holy living and running around as a near-do-well thinking that somehow this is what God wants us to be.
Nor is it about beating ourselves up because we are such horrible sinners.
What it is about is how we are in relationship with each other and with God as we live together in the body of Christ.
The context of this parable is very important. This parable takes place in a house of worship. And it is about two people who come to pray to the place of worship. A HOUSE OF WORSHIP
The Gospel of Luke was written during the latter part of the 1st century in order to help the church understand what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. By this time, churches had established places of worship, even if they were only small houses or shops. They were beginning to form into congregations and learning how to be with each other.
Learning how to be with each other. They were learning that it was important to live moral lives accountable to one another. We know from letters Paul wrote to the early churches that there were some who were committing adultery. In some tabloid special kind of ways.
We also know, from the story of Ananias and Sapphira, that all weren’t giving to God their tithe or at least what they said they gave. A&S are the poor couple who were struck dead because they said they had given their offering to the church but hadn’t really done so.
It’s a disturbing piece of early church history. I’m glad God doesn’t do that anymore.
We know that there were those in the early church who took money from the offering that was to go to the widows and orphans. And those who used the communion table as a place of gluttony.
In other words, in the early church there were people who were the direct opposite of the Pharisee.
A man of high moral fiber, he didn’t cheat on his wife, take money from the poor and powerless, or even sinned much. He fasted and tithed just like a good Jew should.
Just the sort of person we would all want in our churches.
Except that he started thinking more highly of himself than he ought. He started looking down his nose at the ordinary folk. The new believers who didn’t quite understand the idea of table fellowship or every Sunday church attendance. Or the gentiles who had never heard of tithing let alone fasting. And while his haughty attitude wasn’t good for him, it was terrible for the church. For the body of Christ. The body of Christ is the place where every part is holy and scared and necessary. From the nose to the toenail. from the brain cell to the liver enzyme. Every part is holy and good and necessary.
This parable is about what can happen to some people. Some people who are followers of Jesus but who have stopped remembering whose they are. They have stopped remembering that there is none righteous no not one. that by grace are we saved through faith, it is the gift of God lest anyone should boast. They have begun to think that it is their gifts, their graces and their work that is making the church the awesome place that it is. And if only everyone would be like them, well, it would be an even better place.
The parable is about all of us. All of us. Because we all can become at a moment’s notice without even trying, like the Pharisee. Good, good, good people who look at others with contempt. Who sees the splinter in the other’s eye while ignoring the log in our own. Who think that if we weren’t here it would all fall apart.
Thankfully, Jesus told us this parable. So we are not without hope for justification and righteousness. All we have to do is stand aside and step down. Just as the tax collector did. Just as Jesus did. When he came to dwell with us. Hear these words from Philippians 2, probably some of the most beautiful words ever written about the body of Christ and Jesus.
“Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to grasp onto. But he emptied himself by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
every promise we can makeevery prayer and step of faithevery difference we can makeis only by God's grace Grace Alone, Words and Music by Scott Wesley Brown, Jeff NelsonLyrics found on: http://www.completealbumlyrics.com
Lord be merciful to me a sinner Lord be merciful to us sinners so that we can grow more and more into the likeness of Christ. So that we can more and more be with our brothers and sisters the body of Christ for the sake of the world’s salvation.