Are you a Pharisee or tax collector? Do you know any Pharisees or tax collectors? Stick with me a minute, and we’ll both learn.
Pharisees were a dedicated bunch. They were very strict in interpreting and obeying Old Testament rules and commandments. Their very identity was demonstrated by how they lived their life in accordance with their faith. They were very legalistic. Pharisees held themselves as examples of how best to live your faith and judged others for failing to do the same. Before you dismiss them, consider one you might know. His name was Saul, and he describes himself as a Pharisee of Pharisees. You know him better by his Christian name, Paul.
What about the tax collector? First, don’t think IRS or any government or political process. Tax collectors then and now are very, very different. Don’t apply politics of today to the time then, or you’ll end up with Woke Pharisees enforcing Cancel Culture or the Moral Majority.
Tax collectors in Jesus’ time were Jews who worked with the Roman authorities to collect money from fellow Jews. Romans were occupiers who enforced their will upon defeated nations. The tax collectors collaborated with their Roman occupiers. They were despised. Imagine a Ukrainian working with Russian forces in occupied parts of Ukraine to collect money from fellow Ukrainians to fund the Russian war effort.
Right about now, you’re thinking that you are in the clear. You’re not strictly interpreting and exemplifying your faith while judging others for not doing the same, and you’re not collaborating with an enemy occupying force. Any worries you might have had about falling into one or the other category are fading away.
Not so fast. In the Gospel of Luke 18:9-14, Jesus shares a parable in which a Pharisee and a tax collector go down to the temple to pray.
The Pharisee gives thanks to God that he is not a sinner “or even like this tax collector.” Furthermore, he lives his faith by fasting and tithing.
The tax collector, with head bowed, simply states, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
Jesus lifts up the humility of the tax collector’s faithful statement in contrast with the self-righteousness of the Pharisee.
So herein lies the real question: Are you self-righteous in your faith and life or humble in your sins?
That is a much more difficult question. What if we’re a little bit of both?
I bristle at self-righteousness of any sort. However, if left to my own devices, I can be very self-righteous about others I see as self-righteous. It’s a curiously easy trap. I also know that I have made mistakes, consumed humble pie (or my foot) and sought forgiveness.
Some lessons to take to heart: Be wary of your own and other’s self-righteousness. Leave the judging to God and courtrooms. Be humble before God and others. We’re all flesh and blood, capable of success and failure. Give grace to yourself and to others.
The Rev. Stephen Reed
Stephen Reed is a pastor at St. Paul Church on Farmers Loop next to Mushers Hall and Chaplain for Police and Fire departments. Insight is sponsored by TVCC.
Printed in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on October 21, 2022
Married 27 years, 2 kids, 1 cat and 1 dog. Ordained & Chaplain for 20 years. Ministry philosophy - we're all in this together and Jesus leads the way. Hobbies: working in the woodshed, teaching, and competitive shooting