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Sermon Oct 27, 2019
Today we read in the Gospel of an encounter at the Temple of a Pharisee and a tax
collector. This contrast between the Pharisees and the tax collectors appears
several times in the New Testament. Recall in Matthew some Pharisees
complained “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
(Matthew 9:11, NRSV). To which, Jesus replied, “Those who are well have no
need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire
mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners”
(Matthew 9:12-13). The Pharisees might have thought that Jesus and his followers
would somehow become contaminated by eating with sinners and tax collectors.
They would be negatively affected by this association. Guilty by association. But
Jesus tells them that they have it backwards. Jesus doesn’t become corrupted by
coming into contact with sinners. Rather, sinners get healed by coming into contact
with Jesus. Today we have a Pharisee standing apart from a tax collector in the
temple praying to not be like that tax collector over there. Jesus tells his disciplines
this parable of a Pharisee, who trusts in himself thinking he is righteous while
regarding others like the tax collector with contempt. We know it as the parable of
the Pharisee and the tax collector, but we can easily substitute these two characters
for their modern day equivalents: one who regards himself as righteous and the
other looked down on. So we have the parable of the true patriot and the latte-

sipping liberal. The parable of the enlightened progressive and the backwards
redneck. The parable of the orthodox theologian and the heretic. Here’s the story
Jesus tells. Two men, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector, go up to the
temple to pray. The Pharisee stands by himself, front and center to be seen by all
and he really is quite impressive. The Pharisee is a man at home in the temple. He
says his prayers. He gives more than he has to. Although the tithe on income was
standard, he tithes on everything he has, and many people would have benefited
from his generosity. He stands in the correct posture for prayer in the temple, arms
raised and head lifted, and basically gives God a progress report. As far as he can
tell, he’s got it all under control, and he’s happy about it. He follows all the rules.
“God,” he says, “I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, unrighteous
folks, adulterers, or even like that tax collector over there.” Meanwhile, standing
off at a distance, back in a corner, inconspicuous is the tax collector. He has got
nothing to show for himself, and he knows it. He earnes his living by working for a
foreign government collecting taxes from his own people. For years he has
collected high taxes from his Jewish neighbors to give to the Roman government.
He makes his money by charging an excess and keeping it for himself. Basically,
he is a crook and a traitor. He is guilty and he knows it. He keeps his head lowered
as he comes into the temple. Here he is in the temple, full of remorse, beating his
breast and saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” He doesn’t even promise to

change. All he does is ask for God’s mercy. The parable ends with the Pharisee
going home empty. He asked nothing of God, except for God to keep people like
the tax collector away from him so he doesn’t become contaminated, so he leaves
receiving nothing. The tax collector came empty-handed asking for God’s mercy
and goes come having received that mercy. He has been justified that is restored to
a right relationship with God. Tax collectors and sinners paradoxically go home
full. All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. When we come into
God’s presence not trying to exalt ourselves up by putting someone else down, but
with an honest and humble acknowledgment of our emptiness, God fills us with his
love and forgiveness, for none of us is worthy of God’s grace and mercy. Our
Episcopalianism, our liberalism, our conservativism, our environmentalism, our
vegetarianism, our good works, our acts of piety, our love of kittens will not save
us. The Good News is that God sent his Son Jesus Christ who through his life,
death, and resurrection has made us acceptable in God’s sight and through his
holiness has made us holy and acceptable in him. My efforts, my good works, your
efforts and good works are to no avail. It is God’s grace freely bestowed on us,
through the cross of Christ by which we have received forgiveness. This is an
incredible gift. A gift of love. How we respond to this Good News should make a
difference in our lives. We should be leading good lives, indeed holy lives. We
don’t know whether the tax collector in today’s parable went home and changed

his ways; however we do know of another tax collector, remember the story of
Zacchaeus. He was a wealthy tax collector, despised by his fellow Jews as a traitor
because he collected taxes for the Roman government, like the tax collector in
today’s parable. Ironically his name means pure or innocent. As a tax collector he
certainly did not live up to his name. Jesus was walking through the crowded
streets of Jericho and Zacchaeus, being short, climbed up into a tree in order to see
Jesus. So it surprised the crowds when Jesus seeing Zacchaeus in the tree called
him by name and told Zacchaeus to come down as he, Jesus, was visiting his house
that very evening. Again Jesus is exposing himself to one the crowd viewed as
unworthy. After encountering Jesus, Zacchaeus changes his ways. “And
Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: Behold, Lord, half of my goods I give to
the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore
him fourfold” (Luke 19:8). Our encounter with God will change us just as it did
with Zacchaeus. How has it changed you? Have you become more open to those
who are not like you? I’ve always felt uncomfortable around the homeless, perhaps
from a sense of guilt that I have a home, clean clothes and food on my table. And
then, you’ve probably heard stories about how they aren’t really homeless and how
they get lots of money from people who pass them on the street. So like so many
others I have looked away and pretended they aren’t there. I made them invisible.
Then I saw a presentation on a ministry in San Antonio on the homeless. The

speaker said the worse part was that the homeless felt invisible. I was profoundly
touched by this statement because I realized I contributed to their invisibility.
Every time I stopped in Socorro on my way to and from Albuquerque I would see
a homeless man sitting outside the gas station and I ignored him. Although I
couldn’t solve the problem of homelessness, I could make those I encountered
visible. So the next time I stopped there I went up to him and struck up a
conversation, got him a cup of coffee and visited with him. This became a regular
occurrence until late this summer when he got a ride to Colorado. His name is Kip.
I learned a lot from Kip and not just about him, but about myself as well. Imagine
feeling invisible or despised like the tax collector. How often have we looked
away? Have we been the Pharisee or the Tax collector? As we encounter God in
our daily lives may we always ask for God’s mercy and be changed by that mercy
to renew our attempts to lead a life reflecting God’s love and mercy. Amen.