#NotWestboro is the podcast for October 27, 2019, The wrong way to read this passage from Luke is to think the Pharisees are corrupted by religion and the Tax Collector is not religious but enlightened. Here is how to understand this Pharisee and Tax Collector parable. Listen here FREE and find out more: Download it into your phone. #Luke18 #WestboroBaptist #Westboro #Humility #Prayer #Religion #2Samuel #David #Uriah #Nathan #Parable #Allegory #CornerOffice #Pride #Pharisee #Tax Collector
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For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Fr. Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 10/27/2019 The 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Luke 18:9-14.
Probably the worst interpretation of this parable from the Gospel of Luke, the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, would be that the religious person is a hypocrite and the despicable tax collecting, unclean, unrighteous, politically treasonous tax collector is a saint. A parable is not an allegory. An allegory is when the story is told in such a way that all the actions of the character line up with what the person actually did.
One great allegory is when Nathan confronts David in 2 Samuel with how David had stolen Bathsheba from the valiant warrior Uriah. David was so outraged by the series of events about a great land owner who had many sheep who would not take from his own flock, but had to steal the lamb from a poor man who only had the one lamb. David was outraged and Nathan, in Law and Order fashion says, “YOU are THAT man!” That is an allegory for the king who had many wives stealing from the valiant Uriah who had but one wife. David even had Uriah killed so he could take Bathsheba for his wife; awful. Yet, that is an allegory.
This is a parable, so the events do not line up exactly. The point is to get the point, the gist, the overall message. That message is told to us by Luke at the outset: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.” So, that is the point we are looking for and its ramifications.
I do not believe for one second that the Pharisee meant to trust in himself and set out to despise others. Over time, it became his intent. As we can see from all the abuses of religion in the world, if we have hate or a pre-disposition from the culture to despise people, we will twist our religion to despise that person if we are not careful. Additionally, one of the ways that we twist religion is to trust in our judgment about others over God’s. Just remember, there were books about how African Americans in this country were not human, but animals. This is the most outrageous example of how we took God’s good creation, of many colors, like Joseph’s beautiful technicolor coat, and we use our own judgment to justify slavery, something that benefitted the economy as a whole, that is, the cheapest of labor.
There were many benefits to being a Pharisee. You were honored by others. That is why we look for honor seeking in candidates for the priesthood. It can lead to this superiority complex that condemns others instead of extending mercy. The Pharisee is reciting his prayers like a psalm which recounts how a person has been faithful to God, which is common to the Psalms. He IS doing all the things he was supposed to do.
Usually, being a Pharisee opened you up to the highest levels of culture and of access to economic benefits. I think it would be very easy to get swept up into thinking highly of oneself because you somehow secured a metaphorical corner office. Although, the point of the parable is that prayer is not about basking in the idea that you achieved the corner office yourself. It is about remembering that without God you would not have life nor would you have the ability to secure the corner office.
Here is the thing about the tax collector: it says he could not even lift his eyes to heaven. He should not lift his eyes to heaven. His life was despicable. Tax collectors were Jews that worked for the Roman occupying force. They handled money that had Caesar’s face on it declaring that Caesar was a god. They extorted others to increase their take. They got to keep everything they could get out of someone above the actual tax owed. Imagine the tactics used for this purpose. Think fraudulent pressure call “from the IRS” but in person with muscle. If a tax collector from the day stepped into the Confessional, I would know I probably needed to clear my calendar for the day.
What we need to see here is that we must be self-aware and courageous enough to face who we really are. What I am not talking about is believing the gas lighting from an abusive or unhealthy relationship. I am talking about looking at our thoughts and realizing that we, too, can be prejudiced. We can be puffed up in ourselves and think we have all the answers, even when God seems to not have them.
The best example of this is Westboro Baptist Church that goes around the country to funerals of armed service members with signs that say, “God hates gays.” First, God hates no one, so God does not hate gays. Secondly, the Gospel is never spoken in the framework of hate speech. Third, who put Westboro Baptist on a pedestal so that they would not have to look at their own sins? God hates no one. God has love for everyone. God likes behaviors and does not like behaviors, but God does not hate anyone, anyone.
So, as we enter the church to pray, we need to think about some things. Who exactly do we want in the pews next to us? Everyone. We want everyone in the pews next to us. We want the Pharisee who is righteous and a pompous jerk. We want him, but we want to rebuke his notion that he is as good as God and can pronounce judgment on someone by appearances. We want the tax collector who is engaging in despicable acts that we can also confront with love to coax him out of his ways into righteousness.
We want everyone to fast, to tithe (which is to give 10% of our gross income to God), and pray every day, like the Pharisee. We want that way of life. Yet, what we want in addition to that is the attitude of the Tax Collector who says, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” You may note that the Tax Collector didn’t spurn religion. He was turning to his religion in the Temple to pray to the living God, yet, he did it with a heart that was in line with the First Commandment: to have no other gods before Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To place ourselves in the seat of judging the worthiness of another person’s prayer is to break the First Commandment. It is the same sin that Adam and Eve committed in the Garden: they decided they knew better that God.
The disposition of the heart is important. As Catholics, we call it “intent”. Intentionality is the key to sinning. No one sins when they do something sinful by accident. They sin when they willingly do something, like condemn another person for what they have done. What should be the focus of our spirituality is our relationship with God, our disposition of the heart.
So, where are we with this?
Is your mercy, sincerity, generosity, kindness, and love given by God lived out every day toward all peoples? Are you trusting in your own efforts to win salvation or are you trusting God in his mercy? Are you judging and despising others or seeking to bend yourself to love them with all your heart? Are you fasting, tithing, and going to prayer with a proper disposition of heart? If you have failed in any of these things, if you have failed to live up to the righteousness of the Pharisees, remember, God loves you as if you were this Tax Collector. So, you can repent and turn it around. He welcomes you with loving arms. Amen.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian