Two men went to the temple to pray – a Pharisee and a tax collector. Now we need to understand – both men are Jews – only Jews were allowed inside the temple. The Pharisee and the tax collector are as far apart on the social ladder as you can get in the Jewish world.
The Pharisee is the leader who is looked up to – the perfect example of what it means to revere and follow their God whom they call Adonai. They are the teachers of religion and the law. They spend their whole life studying the scriptures and discussing the things of God. They pray, they tithe, they fast – and they did this so that the Jewish people (as a whole) would be found acceptable before their God. The Pharisees, along with the priests and Sadducees were the ones who stood in the gap to mediate between God and man – they were the heroes of the faith.
The tax collector on the other hand is seen as a traitor – the lowest of the low. They have consorted with the occupying forces and have gone over to the enemy. They collect the taxes from their own people for the Romans, and most of them collected more than is owed to the governors. If they could collect more, they got to keep the difference. Some of them got rich that way, and they were all despised by their fellow Jews.
So the listening crowd would be thinking “yea Pharisees!” - “boo tax collectors!” And the Pharisee stands up and prays a typical formula prayer. “God, I thank you that I am not like other people; thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” Yep, he’s saying, “Hey God, look at me - I’m better than all these low-lifes."
Then he recites a list of all the things that he does – he fasts twice a week – that’s more often than is required by the law or tradition. He gives a tithe of all his income, not just the required portions. In other words, he goes the extra mile – he does more than he is required to do. This is no more than is expected by the people hearing the story, but he is also boastful, prideful and to make sure God understands, he compares himself to someone he considers less worthy.
Then we see the tax collector – he doesn’t even approach God closely… He stands apart – far off – and he doesn’t really know how to pray. He doesn’t dare to lift his eyes to heaven, but beats his breast as he prays. This prayer is a simple plea for God to have mercy on him – and Jesus says, “and he went home justified rather than the other.” This was a man who knew his sin, and who was humble before God.
How much of this is human nature – this need to compare ourselves to others? People do it all the time. It seems to bear out of our need to have something visible to measure ourselves against – so that we can know how well we are doing. This is something that we learn early because it’s fostered by our school system.
There is a particular mark that is considered good enough – and if you don’t attain that mark, then you have to repeat that grade until you do.
The minute we attach grades to our learning process and reward those who make better grades, we foster a competitive nature in children. When we evaluate schools and grade the school according to how well their students do on standardized tests, then we foster competition between institutions – just as if it were a football game.
I have a friend, call her June, who has come to me for counsel from time to time. She was estranged from her spouse and they were rather at odds with each other about any number of things. She did not respect him because his behavior did not inspire respect. She would say things like, ‘well, at least I don’t do so-in-so like Jim does.’ and various other statements along the same vein. My question to her was why are you comparing yourself to someone you don’t respect?
That’s exactly what the Pharisee was doing. Do people do that (compare themselves to others) because they are insecure and it is the only way they can feel good about themselves? Quite often it doesn’t work – it gives a false sense of illusion about who and what we are. It is born out of pride – and from any angle – positive or negative - pride is destructive.
One preacher said don’t go out of here glad you aren’t like the Pharisee, because if you do, you’ve just become the Pharisee. And don’t go out glad you are like the tax collector – same problem, you’ve just compared yourself to someone else – and that is borne out of pride - a desire to be better than someone else.
Each and every one of us has a path to follow – one designed by God. And each path is as individual as we are – no two are alike. Our path is tailored for us by God. We can choose to walk in our own path, or we can try other paths - but other paths will never fit as well.
When I started my journey with the Lord, I had no idea where he would take me. But I walked out in faith and I told God that I would step through any door he opened. The flip side of that is – if the door doesn’t open, I can’t force it, and I can't regret it. I am simply called to move on to find the door God does want me to take. No comparisons – just walking out in faith, to do the job He wants me to do and to be the person He wants me to be.
I would encourage each of you to take a look at the path that God has placed before you and without regret or gloating to fulfill that responsibility. And without comparing yourself to others, past, present or future, step out in faith, to be the best you can be.
Saturday, October 26, 2013
From today's reading: For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, his favor for a lifetime. Psalm 30:5
I can understand this verse very well. I know how mad I could get at my kids when they were growing up. And I also know that those transgressions that riled my anger so much at the time are no longer remembered. But regardless of those incidents, my love for my children will never wane. Thank you, Lord, that you are a loving father whose anger does not last.
As a parent myself, I know that anger stems from disappointment - disappointment in my children's choices - and a deep desire to see them succeed and become all that they can be. God feels the same about each of us - a desire to see us become the best person that we can possibly be.
Lord, help me to overcome those desires and stumbling blocks that keep me from being the very best image of you that I can be. Inspire me and encourage me by setting the goal of my heart firmly before me that I may become the very best me that is possible. Amen.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
From Sunday's gospel: Jesus said, "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; Luke 16:19-20
This story of Lazarus and the rich man is the story of a man who ignores a problem that God has placed on his door step. We want to take his to task, but how many of us often ignore the man or woman who stands on the street corner begging for what few coins might come their way?
Last week was a difficult week. We started the week facing Sam's pending heart cath getting blood work and doing the pre-admittance work. On Tuesday, I received a letter from the insurance company telling me that certain work needed to be done on the house and the completion date they gave me was Sunday 9/29. I managed to contact a contractor who came to submit a bid. In the midst of all this, a feral cat moved her kittens into our garage during a rain storm.
So on Thursday we left the house at 5 am and I didn't come home until 9 pm. Sam's day procedure had turned into a two day procedure and they kept him overnight. Got a few hours sleep, cleaned up and was back at the hospital by 6 am on Friday. The procedure on Friday was longer. I went back to the house mid-afternoon and was confronted by the unmistakable stench of dead animal. I got our son, Andy, to go look for it as I headed back to the hospital. He didn't find anything. Ii started going in and out the front door to avoid the stench while i looked for someone to come to take care of the problem.
I brought Sam home about noon on Saturday and finally had time to pay attention. When i finally got out to find out what has going on, I found two live gray kittens laying on the body of their dead sibling. I rescued them and then found another kitten in another part of the garage. My friend, Leah, came and took the kittens to mother them a bit. One died later, but the other two are doing well. When Chris from GuardTech came on Sunday, he found the mother cat dead under the house.
The thing is, I should have twigged a lot earlier to the cat problem, but I was distracted by the many things going on around me. I ignored a potential problem even to the point on going in and out another door to avoid it. I understand how easy it can be to ignore a need that is at your gate. I was preaching on Sunday and found this all to be very pertinent to the gospel lesson and therefore excellent sermon material.
I'm glad to say this week is looking much better. Sam is up and moving around very well, at least two kittens survived, and the contractors are supposed to begin work today (weather permitting.) God does provide, even when we flounder around, - - and life goes on.