The Pharisee and the Publican
2007-10-26 by Tom Steagald

I am reflecting on the notion of "identity" in this text, and the "delicious irony" (Levine) of the trap Jesus sets in the telling.

On the face of it, everyone assumes their proper station and says the right kind of prayer. It is appropriate for the Pharisee to pray as he does--he is, in fact, thankful to have been called to be a Pharisee and his prayer is no different than ours when we say, "There but for the grace of God go I." (Levine) 

Likewise, the Publican ought to beat his chest and hide his face and stay away from polite company as he prays his miserable prayer miserably alone.

If the hearers of the parable were surprised that Jesus commended the Publican and his prayer--trapped by grace--we are surprised to find that we are trapped by our legalism when we say something like, "I am glad I am not like that Pharisee." (Levine) In sum, when we identify with the Publican we only prove we are the Pharisee (Schillebeeckx).

Still, this question of is not just that the Pharisee plays by the rules but that he takes his identity from who he is and what he does. His identity is based in self-affirmation. He has received his reward. The Publican, howver, finds identity in confession and self-contradiction, which Abba Evagrius said was the beginning of salvation.

And still both are in the Temple. Both are in my church! All of us are probably both. I know people in my church who are self-aggrandizers or self-blessers--I am one of them! And truth to tell I am thankful for them (as Levine says, the Pharisee is just the kind of congregant all of us want to have and in multiples--these folk pray and fast and, especially, tithe!). They follow the rules and who wants a bunch of antinomians to shepherd? That said, the Pharisees in the pews and the Pharisees we are are mostly unaware of our sin, and therefore are unaware of our own need for grace. Instead, we take identity from our righteousness, our works, our proper place in the Temple.

I also am and have folk who are so sure of their sin they are unable to see that they too are loved and are welcomed in the Temple...that their prayers are heard and are efficacious.

Last week I departed from the lectionary to preach on Luke 7:36-50, how in pride "we," much like Simon, are inclinced to see "its" (7:39) instead of seeing "hers/hims/thems" (7:44)--that how we treat "outsiders" is crucial in replicating the hospitality of God. This week I return to Luke to preach this text, determined to deal with "insiders," folk who come to Temple with us to pray and whose only hope is in God (Lathrop)--while many of us still put our first best hope in ourselves and regard the others with contempt.

The solas of the historic Reformation speak to what will reform the heart, too, what might reform the shape and tenor of congregational life. Moreover, these images seem to help me see the Bible as a book of salvation by grace and not for me alone (Just as I am, without another plea), but also as a political tool by which God forms and reforms the people.

Buzzing in the Cafe!
2007-10-26 by David Howell

Lots of folks in the cafe talking about Pharisees and Publicans.

Join the a response to a sermon for this Sunday or share your own for feedback.

Chef Jean Paul has brought out the good stuff: Vietnamese Coffee (hot)!

Go back to Homepage, click on Share It!, and then click on Sermon Feedback Cafe.

2007-10-25 by David von Schlichten

I posted my sermon at the cafe. Go back to Homepage, click on Share It!, and then click on Sermon Feedback Cafe to read my sermon, which is part two of last week's sermon as well as a sermon on Luke 18 and the Reformation.

Thank you to Tom, Rick, Dee Dee, and our guest blogger, Susan Sparks, for the excellent entries below this one.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, poedifier

The Publican and the Pharisee
2007-10-24 by Tom Steagald

I am working on this text this week, familiar as it is. I would alert you who are doing the same not to miss Amy Jill-Levine's wonderful treatment of the pericope in her book, The Misunderstood Jew (Harper, 2006, pp. 40-41).

One thought that strikes me this week is that the players are both in the Temple. This may seen a small point, but as often as I have preached and taught this text I have never considered that part of it. It is not just that the Pope and a pimp went to St. Peter's to pray (Crossan), but that God does not admit one and not the other, but both--much to the Pharisee/Pope/Tom's chagrin. In sum, if the lavish hospitality of God to "outsiders" can wrankle at times we still expect that. What we can't abide is the hospitality to others within the church. Which is to say that often we are unable to be the least bit hospitable to insiders--whatever their real or imagined offense (Remember Garrison Keillor's line to the effect that "we have not spoken to the Bunsens in twenty years, I have no idea why").

Could the Pharisee's prayer even be a bit of a dig at God? I am so righteous as to make distinctions were you (God) do not? If so, his attitude is in keeping with Jonah, at least, who surely wants to make distinction regarding Ninevah where God does not and does what he can to subvert the gracious intent of God. The analogy breaks down in that Ninevites were certainly outsiders, but the desire to make distinction where God does not is still apt.

I am struggling with this business of how we in the church (and I am thinking here of my congregation but it could be extrapolated further) sometimes are prone to regard each other with more contempt than we regard those who are not in the Temple at all. If that makes any kind of sense.

It is still early.

The Cries of a Sinner
2007-10-24 by Dee Dee Haines

Thank you to Rick Brand for reminding us of the universality of all of God’s creation.  Perhaps we cannot truly understand the cry, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” without again coming to grips with the reality that everything has been fashioned by God with the intention of enjoyment for all.

Our sinful brokenness invites us to claim, for ourselves, a kind of ownership that leads to a specific virus of idolatry of self--- that is never consistent with a depth-filled understanding of grace. “It’s mine, I’ve earned it.” If we fall into this pattern of thinking, it won’t be long before it is followed by, “If so-and-so worked as hard as I do, they’d have what they need.” 

I remember when I first moved into this manse.  There was a lovely view of the hillside from the south facing conservatory.  And then a builder began to uproot the vegetation and fashion a new structure that totally obscured the vision of what had once been a source of peace and tranquillity.  I remember saying to someone, “They’ve ruined my view.” A very wise man said to me, “Oh, it’s your view, is it?” 

It’s a humbling experience to embrace the concept that everything we have is not only provided by God, but also under God’s guardianship.  Surely, any humble confession must begin with this basic concept that we have to learn again, and again.

Thanks, Rick, for the thoughtful reminder!

Dee Dee Haines  

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