New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 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. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 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!’ 14 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.”
“At least I’m not like THOSE people.” I’ve said it. I’ve thought it. I’ve meant it.
I can be pretty proud of myself at times. I believe it when I read a news article about my most recent professional accomplishment. When people tell me I’m a great principal, I love that feeling. After meeting our family and chatting with our almost graduated from high school daughter, and compliments about her are given to us as parents, we can get pretty puffed up with pride. When I do something kind for someone else and hear how I have helped them, I can feel pretty darn good about myself. Let’s just go with this…I don’t suffer from a self-image problem or deal with debilitating insecurities.
But today’s lesson from Luke is all about the humility with which we are to approach our life in Christ. The Pharisee does one heck of a job of pumping up and list his accomplishments to an all-knowing and all-seeing God. It’s like he is looking for God to thank him with a big “Atta Boy!” for living a righteous life. And in comparison, the tax-collector, that lowest of the lows in society at the time comes before God with a humble heart and asks for mercy without even raising his eyes toward heaven. Jesus then shares that little nugget at the end about the humbled being exalted, essentially admonishing the bragger and do-gooder for forgetting that God’s gifts come without any strings attached.
To be exalted is to be elevated in status and that is exactly what Jesus tells us to will happen when we live our life in deference to the gifts of grace and mercy. The Pharisee approaches God as if to collect what he deserves…but let’s face the truth here. We can never do enough good and follow enough rules to ever deserve God’s mercy. That’s the coolest and most humbling part of all – all we have to do is ask. And it is done. That’s it.
But make sure you want the elevated status in God’s eyes, rather than search for it in the eyes of others. With a somewhat high profile job in my community which provides a service, people tend to tell me things about myself that I could easily believe if I allowed what others’ think about me to influence my status. I could believe that I have almost magical leadership powers if their interpretations of my leadership are correct. I could also believe the opposite on my worst day as a principal if I let the feelings of others determine my worth. So I try to find a balance – I am my worst critic for sure – but in God’s eyes, I am his creation and therefore must turn to him to be given the gift of grace and mercy.
Today’s parable is a cautionary tale to be wary of puffing up oneself to others and especially to God. He knows all that we are and all that we are not without our need to list off the accomplishments and/or failures. No matter how we are feeling about our worth to ourselves or our family/friends/community, approach God with an open heart to the gift of justification through our humility. And we will be exalted through him.
Lord, we are not worthy to accept your gift of your one and only Son. Yet we know that you intended that gift just for us. Help us to stay humble in our good works and remind ourselves we are deserving of your grace and mercy. For our exaltation is for you and for your alone. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus Heals the Man with Dropsy
14 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
Humility and Hospitality
7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
*Warning: This blog post will reference a Broadway musical called “The Book of Mormon.” The play is not the topic of discussion but will be used as a reference point for today’s post.
We saw the “Book of Mormon” yesterday as a family – it was our daughter’s birthday present from June and she has been begging to see this play since about a month after its Broadway debut. We tried to get tickets to see the show in NYC, but then as luck would have it, the traveling version came to Dallas for a two-week run. My very wonderful husband spent almost three hours in the queue online the day the box office opened and scored the tickets. I knew a little about the play, and knew it was irreverent and a bit naughty, but I was just blown away by the brilliant writing and the talent on that stage. GO SEE THIS IF YOU WANT TO LAUGH UNTIL YOUR HEAD HURTS!!!!
One of the great songs – there are many – is a track titled, “Mostly Me.” Here is a link so you can enjoy this song too, although you will not have the hilarious context unless you GO SEE THIS PLAY!
Today’s Gospel reading ties in perfectly with this song! Jesus gives the wedding guests some great advice. His parable is one of both grace and humility. Grace – because we really never deserve the honor of being a child of God. We get this as a free gift in spite of ourselves. And humility – one of my favorite traits to find in others and one I constantly work on having myself – the ability to be humble; or as I like to think, putting others ahead of yourself. Jesus’ advice to the guests who are trying to decide how important they are at the wedding feast as compared to the other guests is to assume that all are important and you are no more special than the rest.
One of the things I loved about the song “Mostly Me,” is that it speaks to that ugly monster that can live inside us when we get too big for our britches. It’s a well written song to which many of us can relate. We may have felt as if our presence saved the day at one point or another, and conversely, we all have been in the presence of someone who really embodied the lyrics of this song to our annoyance as well. God calls us to love one another, just as he loves us (John 13:34), which I interpret to include that we don’t put ourselves before others in order of importance (among other things that very complex yet simple Bible verse is telling us!). The presence of humility in our beliefs about ourselves gives us a schema for lifting up others rather than judging them, living a life of service in our community, helps us show love in the way we interact with others and gives us the chance to really enjoy when we receive grace and forgiveness.
The Book of Mormon as a play is best enjoyed with a great dose of humility for all who are called to spread God’s word. In teaching others about Christ and the gift of everlasting life, Christians will do well to laugh at ourselves and reflect on our place at the feast. Let’s let others sit in the place of honor, for God will surely call us to be with him though we will never really deserve it.
God of grace and mercy, we give thanks that you invite us to join you in the feast of the resurrection. Help us to put others before you and to continually serve you in all we do and say. We look forward to our perfect life with you when our work here is done. We ask this in your Holy Name. AMEN.