Submitted by Visitor (not verified) on Tue, 08/12/2009 – 15:14
Bible Book: Luke / Lukas
A first reading of this “Parable of Pharisee and Tax Collector” may give the impression that it is about disparities. The Pharisee seems almost the opposite of the Tax Collector. He is pious, living an honest and upright life (verse 11). He fasts and gives tithes more that what the law requires (verse 12). Contrary to him the Tax Collector bears only one characteristic: that of a sinner (verse 13b).
But there is another contrast: the Pharisee, who seems to be so righteous, is only self-righteous and therefore not justified before God. On the other hand: the Tax Collector, who confesses his sins, goes home justified by God.
On re-reading the parable it seems to me that Jesus presents us with another perspective on what is happening: Although it seems to be a situation of contrasts the reality is that “two men went up to the temple to pray” (verse 10a). That is what prayer, coming to God, is about: Humans in the presence of God – nothing more and nothing less.
The problem is that the one person (the Pharisee) does not perceive himself as standing before God. According to his prayer he is standing against this “other” person. When he compares his life with “the other’s” life he cannot but exult himself as “being more righteous than the other” and simultaneously condemns “the other”. In doing this, he puts himself outside the scope of God’s grace.
The tendency to compare yourself with others, to gloat about what you think you see in yourself and to condemn others on what you perceive to be their lives, is an ever present danger for all Christians. The story of the Aids pandemic tells that this happens so easily. Too often Christians think HIV and Aids draws a line between “us” and “them”. Too easily Christians assume that people living with HIV are the “sinners”.
I think this parable challenges us to move from an “us-them paradigm” to a “we-humans-before-God paradigm”. This applies to whether we pray or whether we respond to the Aids pandemic.
To think about (or discuss): How can we avoid falling in the trap of self-righteousness?
Author: N du Toit (Ds)