Be like the Pharisee???
Parables always catch us out . . . they are Jesus gracious invitation to find ourselves within the story . . . and thus to find our Salvation, our deepest healing.
So, ‘Lord I thank you that I am not like that Pharisee!! And neither are any of the people in my church, cos we don’t hang out with the Pharisees!!’ And of course, we all know who the Pharisees are . . .
Funny how being a Pharisee has become a term of abuse – so ironically its ‘In’ to be a Pharisee, that is one who holds others in contempt – all pharisees 🙂
He spoke this parable to those who held others in contempt . . . to those who failed to see that their life was with the other – that they had no life apart from the other, no life separate from the one they really didn’t want to have a life with
Recently we’ve spent a little bit of time exploring our current situation in the Diocese in terms of facing reality – not in terms of the narrative of ‘falling numbers and raging congregations’ There is a real sense that that is an Unreality – it is abstract. It is not to do with particular people in particular places’. Insofar as it is anything at all to do with Community, it is only in the loosest sense. We may talk of being the Diocesan family, but when we come to talk about our life together it all begins to be Impersonal, statistics, numbers, strategic plans, not people in place with a history.
In that Context of Unreality Closing Churches may be a Good Idea, in order to face us with REALITY – we won’t get to choose whom we hangout with – Urban church phenomenon
Can you imagine?? Like an atomic bomb
Bad ideas – we don’t hang out with people we don’t like hanging out with 🙂
Getting Real as a church is incredibly hard, it is like setting off an atomic bomb, but can be a creative one . . . depends whether we’re pharisees or tax collectors – but you have to get CLOSE 🙂 You have to stand close enough to others to see that actually you don’t want to get That close – I’ll shake hands . . . but don’t ask me to share the Kiss of peace . . . Don’t get too close . . .
Setting off an atomic bomb requires 1kg of enriched uranium – but you can’t have it all in the same place unless you want it to go off – so you have two 500g blocks – and then when you want them to go off, you push them together – easy – except . . . they don’t want to be together – the reaction starts – created by ‘getting close’ pushes them apart
And this is why Jesus says – if your brother sins against you seven times a day and comes back – you must forgive him – because we’re not about pushing apart
And this perhaps is why we MIGHT have a golden opportunity in the church – at some point we’ll be summoned to a meeting and told – ‘we have to close ten churches’
But to do this we have at least to occupy the same space. Part of the problem of Jesus’ parables is that we have so lost any sense of community, that the story falls a bit flat. It just becomes a moral story which leaves us going away feeling, Well at least I’m not like that Pharisee . . . Yet, perhaps there is more hope in the parable for the Pharisee than there is for us, For all the Pharisee won’t identify himself with the tax collector – he still has to occupy the same space. there’s only one Temple where you can go to pray – we have Heinz 57 varieties, or in Dunedin 14 🙂
And of course such is the Spirit of the age that we live in we are told ‘go where you feel comfortable’ Go to the church that suits your temperament, or your worship style, or your view of the faith. We anglicans are perhaps the pre-eminent consumer brand – we have Conservative, Liberal, Anglo Catholic, Charismatic . . . pity the poor Pharisee – he has to hang out with this social pariah, this tax collector if he wants to go to worship – and this is pretty much like having to go to church with Donald Trump . . .
and What if when we are gathered together, all in our mutually defensive corners – it might become apparent that ‘The Diocesan Family’ is an unreality, or, it is no different to any other family, we don’t embody the difference the gospel makes. This is why however much we complain about structures and strategies and plans handed down from above we prefer them to the Reality of sitting together in the same room . . . Like the Pharisee we are most comfortable standing apart . . .
As I said at the beginning, Parables always catch us out . . . they are Jesus gracious invitation to find ourselves within the story . . . and thus to find our Salvation, our deepest healing. For to find ourselves within the Story of Jesus, the Story of Salvation, is to discover that we are the ones who need healing – the speck in my brothers eye, is only apparent to me, because I have a forest growing out of my own skull – I know wood when I see it 🙂
Waking up to our own predilection to say ‘Lord I thank thee that I am not like other people . . . especially this tax collector . . .’ wakes us up to our need of healing – which can only bring us to the place of prayer before God.
Two prayers from the Tradition help us in this regard. The first is a prayer of recognition. The former Bishop of London, John Taylor Bradford, lived opposite the notorious Tyburn gallows, where the ‘notorious sinners’ were publicly hung (if they were lucky . . .) He was the one who gave us words of recognition which keep us from judgement, ‘There but for the Grace of God goes John Taylor Bradford . . .’ Words which remind us of the source of our life – the Grace of God.
And of course the prayer of the tax collector. ‘Jesus told this parable to those who trusted that they were righteous . . . this I suggest is the default position of us all – it keep us secure – at least I am not like that!!’ 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!” The Pharisee can only see himself and the tax collector, he is blind to God, the tax-collector strangely cannot look God in the face, yet the Face of God looks with love upon him.
But, here is the Hope for the Pharisee. That he is the object of the address of the words of Jesus – we need also to hear from Jesus -to understand our own tendency to Pharisaism, and to know our need of healing from it.
The Reality of our existence, in this church, in this Diocese, is that we Are in this together. We sink or swim together – to stand apart from one another – to identify others as ‘Pharisees’ or whatever label of abuse we might use, is to deny we have a life with them, and it is to deny our Life before God . . . you see, Jesus died for us all, yes, even the Pharisees. Imagine spending all eternity with THOSE people!! Of course our desire not to be with those Jesus died for is the seed of our spending all eternity in a place we’d rather not be in . . .
It reminds me of something said many times – to the familiar accusation ‘I don’t go to church, its full of hypocrites’ -the rejoinder, ‘but there’s always room for one more’ The beginning of our Salvation is in recognises that there is no one whom Jesus did not identify with – if we want to be healed, we have to learn that same identification, and that happens within the house of God, a place peopled by both Pharisees and tax collectors, and maybe even Donald Trump 🙂 Now THERE’S a thought . . .