God declares everyone righteous and seeks us out to be healed, but what about when we are persuaded righteous to ourselves instead?
Vicar Mollie Hamre
Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost, Lect. 30 C
Texts: Luke 18:9-14
Beloved in Christ, grace and peace to you in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In 4th grade, I got detention.
I had gotten in trouble for splashing paint onto a classmate of mine, which ruined her new white shirt. Most would think that the time that I spent in my classroom quietly contemplating my actions would have been the punishment, but that was the easy part of my day. The hard part was the reaction and the judgment that came from my fellow 9 and 10-year-old classmates. My spot in the front of the classroom had been taken, I was shunned during lunch hour and I was pushed to the back by myself.
Needless to say, young Mollie never wanted to experience judgment that came from detention ever again. Because judgment creates separation and divides. Pushes away each other when in those times, we are in need of the opposite.
Which is why the parable leaves me uncomfortable.
Luke tells us a story, appearing to compare two people, leaving us imagining where to place judgment. Who do we want to be?
The Pharisee in the Gospel doing all the right things. This person is fasting, tithing, and doing their best to live out their faith. The Pharisees are known in the Jewish tradition as people that expanded theology, oral tradition, and engaged in lively discussion. This person is not a “bad guy” despite the way we have become accustomed to hearing the parables in Luke.
And tax collectors, as we know, were despised in the ancient world because of their direct connection to the Roman Empire. The job of tax collectors was to get a certain sum of money determined by Rome from the communities they were in. Any extra money they collected would be their wage, which would mean the more money collected, the more wealthy one could be. With a history like this, no one could believe such a parable stating that a tax collector would be declared righteous when standing next to a Pharisee.
But God does.
God knows that healing can happen when we reach out, because God is already there waiting. Yet, here we are. Stuck in this judgment loop, deciding who we want to be and who to push out.
You might be thinking, “What if I am the Pharisee? I’m doing the right things–but I don’t want to be judged. I do not want to be separated. Or maybe you feel like you are the tax collector, unworthy, not feeling that you can look to God.
This is not the first time we have interacted with this dynamic.
In Luke 15, a conversation between the tax collectors, Pharisees, and Jesus begins with Jesus being told that he “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” This is where we hear the parable of The Lost Sons. As we know, the parable ends with the younger son coming back home and his father rejoicing. In doing so, the eldest son becomes angry with his father for the celebration of his brother’s return. What the father says in return, is not judgment or condemnation, but love. 31 “‘My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” Jesus is not interested in judgment and rejection, but in healing, embracing, and celebrating.
And even earlier in Luke 5, Jesus calls the tax collector, Levi, which the Pharisees question and Jesus answers, 31 “Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick; 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
This same theme is happening in our parable today with our Pharisees and tax collectors.
You might ask then if Jesus comes for the tax collectors, “what about the Pharisees?”
They were doing the right thing, just like the eldest brother. They should be part of the healing too.
Let’s think back to my elementary classmates on the day I received detention. They correctly followed the rules, and did what they were supposed to do, why associate with someone who got in trouble? Yet, in this moment of self-validation came judgment too. A decision to create separation from the person who messed up instead of embracing as Jesus, God with us does. Maybe they were in need of healing but didn’t know it. And what about if you do not think you need healing?
Where else do we do that in our own lives?
In decisions to separate from those people with differentiating politics? Those that are just too unlike oneself? What about ignoring those that are oppressed? Because Jesus does not plan to leave them behind. The need for healing can go both ways, healing is not just something that is seen as held for the people that need it more, but given to all.
Honestly, I do not think we can receive too much grace, mercy, and love, even on our well-behaved days. We should welcome healing within ourselves and alongside those who seek it out too.
I recall going to my mom with the detention slip, holding back my tears, and then erupting once she saw my face.
When I later asked my mother about her side of the story, she recounted that I looked so emotionally exhausted by the end of the day she realized I had already learned my lesson before she could get to me. So, she told me it was okay, checked in about why I had received detention, gave me a hug and we moved on.
Any form of judgment, shame, and hurt I had experienced that day rolled off my shoulders because I was given grace for the times I had messed up. And amidst it all, I was told that I was loved and it will be okay.
It does not matter if you are a Pharisee, or a tax collector.
There is no correct answer or judgment call for this parable. Jesus comes to those that are sick and in need of help, and that frankly, means everyone. God seeks out those with detention slips shaking in their hands as well as calling back those that push others away. And that is great news because we all need that kind of grace, healing, and mercy–even when we feel persuaded to think the opposite. And each time we separate ourselves, casting judgment on others, persuaded in our own righteousness, we are called back, promised by the Triune God that all that are lost will be once again found and healed.
In the name of the Father, and of the ☩ Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.