Sunday favorites

Luke 18:9-14

He 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.”

Added: Today is the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Clarence Jordan, so let’s also include this passage as it appears in Jordan’s “Cotton Patch” translation:

Also, he gave this Comparison to certain ones who had a high regard for their own goodness, but looked down their noses at others:

“Two men went into the chapel to pray. This one was a church member, the other was an unsaved man. The church member stood up and prayed to himself like this: ‘O God, I thank you that I’m not like other people — greedy, mean, promiscuous — or even like this unsaved man. I go to church twice on Sunday, and I am a faithful tither of all my income.’

But the unsaved man, standing way off, wouldn’t even lift up his eyes, but knelt down and cried, ‘O God, have mercy on a sinner like me.’

I’m telling you, this man went home cleaned up rather than that one. For everyone who puts himself on a pedestal will be laid low, and everyone who lays himself low will be put on a pedestal.”

  • Robyrt

    My favorite passage in the entire Bible. Thanks for posting!

  • Dash1

    I like this passage as well. I’m also glad I’m not a snot like that Pharisee. Oh, wait…

    However, like a lot of passages, it sometimes reads a bit differently. And this time, given the context in which it’s occurring, instead of an exhortation to humility, I’m seeing that the message is also, “possession of wherewithal isn’t a virtue; what it does, in fact, is add responsibility.”

    (Yes, this is highly simplistic. That is because I am highly simplistic.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=659001961 Brad Ellison

    One fun thing I noticed while meditating upon this passage while watching Disney movies is that it kind of manages to seep into The Hunchback of Notre Dame:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmC_tvMHTzg 
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEEpavnk7Uw

  • Aaaaaaaaaaargh

    Thank you for mentioning Clarence Jordan.  I wish that he was the rule rather than the exception when it comes to white Southern Baptist Christians.  Koinonia Farms is running a CJ symposium in honour of his 100th birthday this September; maybe a good topic for a blog post in the future?  Sorry for the proselytization; I’m just trying to spread the word about them/him as much as possible!

  • MaryKaye

    Like a lot of the often-quoted Bible passages, this one seems to me to have a good side and a significantly bad side:  it gets used to oppress the comfortable, but it also gets used to oppress the oppressed.  In particular, it’s part of the “never think well of yourself” package that pushes a fair number of young Christians into depression and low self-esteem.  I have been years trying to deal with this, and I didn’t get a particularly bad dose.  (And part of getting over it has been leaving Christianity, because I couldn’t do so within the tradition.)

    “Whenever you think you’ve done something good, you haven’t” is pretty toxic stuff, if the person who is hearing it is not in fact a paragon of self-importance.  (And a lot of the people pushing it, in my opinion, *know* it’s toxic and find its toxicity useful.  Despite Jesus’ use of male characters in this parable I will venture to say it’s more often used to bludgeon women.)

  • http://profiles.google.com/fader2011 Alex Harman

    Hey, Fred.  Here’s hoping you’ll have something up tomorrow responding to Ross Douchat’s latest steaming pile of smarmy, disingenuous fail in the Sunday New York Times.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I think the problem is in the apparently common interpretation. When I was growing up it was made very clear that the relative social status of the two people here is significant. One held a position of respectability in society; the other was despised. The idea that a useful application of the parable is to beat down on people who are already marginalised seems absurd to me, and missing a very large part of the point.

    I keep hearing people say that their experience of Christianity was one that destroyed any sense of self-worth, so obviously it’s a common thing. (I tend to hear this from people a generation older than me or American Protestants, if that makes any difference). But it’s so far away from my experience growing up–and my family wasn’t necessarily awesome on the emotional development scale–that I’m at a loss as to what the differentiating factor is. If anyone has any ideas I’d be interested in hearing them.

  • Dash1

     With any parable, a whole lot depends on what the exegetes decide to focus on–heck, to even notice about it. I grew up in a U.S. evangelical congregation that was not interested in social issues (which is to say, it supported the status quo), and so the lesson drawn was very individual: “don’t be like the Pharisee; be like the publican.”

    Part of it was the insistence on the King James Version, which, for many readers, concealed the meaning of “publican” in this context. But even if it hadn’t, it’s hard to feel the visceral disgust for a tax collector, which is not even a category for modern U.S. citizens. I mean, the closest we’d have would be IRS agent (Internal Revenue Service), a simple bureaucrat.

    The other part was the self-image of the group. We knew we weren’t the Pharisees; we were pretty sure the Roman Catholics and Episcopalians were (liturgies! robes! good music!). So basically, the emphasis when “publican” was explained was on the individual thievery, not on the social marginalization (or the social marginalization was explained by the individual thievery).

    This meant the parable was glossed as something like, “even a guy who routinely does wrong can receive forgiveness if he humbly asks for mercy, while even a person who follows all the rules won’t if he’s a snob about it, so therefore humbly ask Jesus to forgive your sins.”
     

  • walden

    I love the Cotton Patch testament.    Really great translation of the Greek into vernacular (with that 1960s southern spin – so Jesus goes up to Atlanta, rather than to Jerusalem, and is lynched rather than crucified). 

  • Robyrt

    I think a better analogue to the tax collector these days is the debt collector, someone who you will go out of your way to avoid but still feel guilty for doing so.


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