Sunday, October 24, 2010

“The Pastor and the Pimp”

Luke 18:9-14
[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' 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!' 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."

A Message from the Pastor
Today, we hear about the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. It is one of the most well known parables in the Gospel of Luke.

I have heard this parable so many times in my life in the church. Every time I hear the parable, and hear Jesus say, “Two men went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee. The other was a tax collector,” I immediately tell myself that the Pharisee is the bad guy. The tax collector is the good guy. That’s how I’ve been trained. Then when I hear the prayer of the Pharisee, “Thank you God, that I’m not like other people, thieves, rogues, adulterers, and even this tax collector,” I identify the Pharisee as pompous. When I hear the tax collector say, “Oh God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” I say to myself, “Yes,”that’s how we’re supposed to pray. The tax collector knows how.” And finally, when Jesus said, “those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted,” I know I’m supposed to have humility. Being humble has been pounded into my head since I was a little boy. That’s how good Christian boys are supposed to act. I know that I am supposed to be humble. In fact, there was a time in my life that I was so humble, I was proud of it.

But let’s go back to the time when Jesus told this story. Let’s return to the time of Jesus and think about what the people heard. Pharisees were highly respected and admired. They followed the letter of the law. They were people who loved God and wanted to demonstrate that love by doing everything the law said. They were supposed to fast once a week and tithe a certain part of their income. This Pharisee fasted twice a week. He tithed all of his income, not just that which was dictated by the law. He was dedicated. (My seminary professor told us that we would lust to have a dozen Pharisees in our congregation. They would work hard, get a lot done, and give generous offerings for the sake of the church.) And let’s look at the Pharisee’s prayer. I don’t think he was being pompous. He believed what he said. He was sincerely thankful that God had created him to be who he was and to do what he was able to do. His prayer could have said, “There, for the grace of God, go I.” Haven’t we all said that at one time or another?

The tax collector was hated. He was considered a traitor and a heretic. He was a pariah on the community. Although he was one of God’s people, he had sold himself to the enemy. He collected the taxes for the conquerors. He collected all the money that went to Rome. It was understood that he could assess any additional taxes that he wanted to, and the extra tax money he could keep. He became wealthy on the backs of his own people. His prayer would not be acceptable to the people because he didn’t even ask for forgiveness or indicate a desire to repent.

At the time of Jesus, the people would have been shocked at Jesus’ ending comments. How could the tax collector, a heretic and traitor, go home justified? How could a model of the Godly life not go home justified?

Let’s take Jesus’ parable and move it from the time of Jesus to the twenty-first century.

Two people went into the sanctuary of a Lutheran church to pray. One was the pastor and the other was a pimp. The pastor went up to the chancel and knelt at the communion rail. He prayed, “Oh God, I thank you that I am not a drug dealer, someone greedy, or someone like this pimp. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to be the person I am. I work hard as a pastor. I attend most of the committee meetings, visit all the sick, take time to hear what my parishioners are concerned about, and tend to the shut-ins. I tithe 12% of my income.” The pimp was seated in the back row of the sanctuary. His head was on the back of the pew in front of him. You could see his shoulders shake as he was sobbing and said, “Oh God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

The operative words of this parable are not focusing on the Pharisee (or pastor), the tax collector (or pimp), or hearing Jesus’ words about being exalted or being humble. The operative words are “trusted in themselves.”

I don’t know about you, but there are many times when I believe that I am doing what I am doing on my own accord. I am the one in charge. In other words, I can be good on my own. That’s what the Pharisee, or pastor, were saying, even though they were thankful and loved God. The tax collector, or pimp, on the other hand, knew who he was. He was a sinner. He wanted the material life that the world had to offer, and he prostituted himself to get it. Even though he knew he was sinning, even though he couldn’t help himself, he continued to do what the world provided, namely, the material things of life. Did you notice? The tax collector didn’t even ask for forgiveness, nor did he indicate a desire to repent. All he did was ask for mercy. He said God, in so many words, I can’t. You can. You have to do it.

Are we any different? We are caught up in issues of life in which we trust ourselves. We don’t realize it many times. In our relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, we can begin by recognizing that, even though we know that on our own we can’t change. We need to say to God, “I can’t. You can. You have to do it.”


  1. I am so amazed at how every lesson and message is so poignantly applicable to my life at the time. I'm sure I have gotten better at relating to them as I have gotten older, but I really think it's God working and speaking to me as well, even more so than my own ability. I am so guilty of thinking like the pastor or Pharisee...and it results from worry. Worrying why soemthing isn't happening becuase I 'deserve' it more than someone else.

    This is a great way to remember to dicuss our worries with God and others and not keep inside, too! Thanks!

  2. Kara, thank you for sharing and being open. I believe that what we need to be open to is God's grace, mercy, and love, and let God take care of the rest. I'm pleased that you are enjoying DC. However, we do miss you and your presence on our community of faith.

  3. You might see me on November 14th! I'll be home then and should be able to make it to the service!