A man went to visit a psychiatrist. “Doc, I’ve got two problems.” The psychiatrist said, “Okay, tell me all about it.” The man began, “Well, first of all, I think I am a Coca-Cola machine”.

The psychiatrist sat the man down and started therapy. For weeks, he gave it his best shot, but nothing seemed to happen. Finally, out of exasperation, the psychiatrist jumped up one day, took two quarters out of his pocket, shoved them in the man’s mouth, grabbed him by the ears and shook him until he swallowed the quarters. Then he hollered, “Okay, now give me a Coke”.

That’s when the man said, “I can’t, Doc. That’s my second problem. I’m out of order.”

The only people God can help are those who admit that they have a problem. They have to admit that they are “out of order”. They have to admit that they have a problem, admit what the problem is, seek help to overcome it and persist until the problem is resolved.

Have you ever thought that you were better than other people? If you have, how can you call yourself a Christian? Christians prove by their words and deeds that they are the same as everyone else, the only difference being that they show Christ’s love and that they admit that they are sinners and ask for God’s mercy and forgiveness. That is the point of the Gospel reading from Luke 18:9-14.

My mother’s doctor told her when she had to start using a cane that “pride goeth before a fall”. Jesus warned the people that the idea that we are self-sufficient for our salvation is a prideful one. Pride is one obstacle to faith. It blinds us to our needs because it makes us think that we can handle our needs and if we can’t handle them, they weren’t important anyway. Pride has no room for mercy, no need for forgiveness. If we think that we can satisfy our own needs, or if we think we are better than anyone else, we are dead wrong. All of us “put our pants on one leg at a time”, as the old saying goes. All of us are the same. If you want proof, look at any cemetery. Rich and poor are buried side by side. Jesus exalted the man who knew his place in the game of grace. How about us? Jesus knew that we have a need that can never be covered over or washed away by human deeds.

It reminds me of a story about a minister who was waiting to board a plane. He saw a businessman run up to an airline attendant and demand immediate entry on the plane. The attendant asked him to go to the end of the line and wait his turn. The man shouted, “Do you know who I am?” He said he was a senior executive who flew often, and he could have her fired. She said, “Well, I guess I’ll wait for that call, but you’ll still have to go to the end of the line”.

Arrogance is the opposite of true self-esteem, and it is the opposite of the two Great Commandments to love God and love people. Humility is a realistic assessment of who we are in God’s eyes. Connecting with who we are in God’s eyes is the start of our spiritual journey. The remainder of the journey involves staying in touch with who we can become with God’s help.

The Pharisee represented the best in religious society. His life reflected care about religious things. Pharisees were pious lay people and religious leaders who were dedicated to their religious observance and admired by others of their faith. The Pharisee thought that he was better than everyone else. He tried to justify himself in the eyes of God. These were his two big mistakes, and they are the same two mistakes all of us make at times. Sometimes we think that we are better than others, and I’m just as guilty of that mistake as everyone else is. We use anything and everything we can to justify ourselves-intelligence, where we went to school, where we live, sports, family, job, etc. We feel the need to prove ourselves to God, but that isn’t necessary as long as we come to him in true faith just like the tax collector came to God in faith.

The main issue in this reading is the sin of self-righteousness, the belief in salvation by works instead of trusting in God’s grace. The Pharisee believed that his good works would get him into heaven, but the tax collector had the humility to do what God requires. He faced the truth about himself and asked for God’s mercy and forgiveness. We can’t gain God’s favour with good works. Our good works have to be backed up with a genuine, humble faith. God has no use for people who boast of their achievements. We must humbly repent and confess our guilt. Humility raises us up to heaven.

Jesus sees the truth about people by looking into their hearts. He saw that the Pharisee was not sincere, and he knew that the tax collector was sincere. Someone who is honest with God sees himself as he truly is. Anyone who repents and calls on Christ will be redeemed by God.

Jesus wants lives that have been transformed. He wants to see followers who love others like he loves us. He wants followers who will feed the hungry, care for the sick, clothe the naked. By doing these things, we will grow close to God.

Religion is not the same as Christianity. Religion concentrates on worshipping God by following man-made rules. Christianity concentrates on worshipping God in sincere faith and on loving others. There are five rules that will free us from religion:

  1. Refuse to bind ourselves and others with man-made rules.
  2. Reject appearances as a spiritual yardstick. Looks can be deceiving.
  3. Review our walk with God and beware of the danger of form without function.
  4. Return to the basis of examination and confession.
  5. Remain humble.

We must remember that what matters to God is our heart and that we are sincere in our relationship with him. God will answer our prayers with a “yes” if we actually offer our prayers to him.

Jewish law required that the faithful give 10 percent of their income from crops and livestock to God’s work, but the Pharisee went beyond that by giving 10 percent of all his income. Jewish law required that the faithful fast or go without food one day per year, but the Pharisee fasted two days per week. He was a religious over-achiever. He stood off by himself and looked at other worshippers, eyeing some of them with contempt. In modern language he would say something like this, “O Lord, how thankful I am that I’m not loitering on some street corner, a no-count drug abuser living off welfare. I thank you that I’m not a homosexual or an abortionist or New Ager or Hollywood pagan. O Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re prefect in every way.”

Sinners are justified when God’s righteousness is added to their account. In other words, sinners are justified when they accept God in faith as their saviour. It was on this basis that the tax collector was saved, and it is on that same basis that we are saved. The tax collector’s heart was a pigsty, but when he prayed he opened the doors wide and begged God to enter. He was not happy with himself and was desperate for grace. Where the Pharisee’s prayer was self-centered, the tax collector’s prayer was God-centered. He did not compare himself to others. He made no reference to what he did or what he did not do. He knew that God knew him just like God knows each and every one of us, and this knowledge broke him open and made him want something better than all that he was and all that he did. Jesus likes sinners because they know that they still have room to grow and depend on God. Jesus also likes sinners because they do not look down on others.

God can take our miserable efforts and make something useful out of them. He takes our mismanaged lives, our failed efforts, our missed marks, our shameful deeds, our attitudes, our sinful lives and out of his resourcefulness he saves us by creating something new, worthy and wonderful that still has usefulness and beauty in his divine plan for our lives.

A martial arts student met his instructor for tea. The student said to his teacher, “I’ve learned all you have to teach me about defending myself. I want to learn one more thing now. Please teach me about the ways of God.”

The teacher took the teakettle and started pouring the student’s cup full of tea. Soon the cup overflowed and spilled over onto the saucer. The teacher continued to pour the tea until it spilled over the saucer and then onto the floor.

The student finally said, “Stop, stop, the tea is spilling over. The cup can’t take any more.” The teacher looked at the student and said, “You are so full of yourself that there is no room in your life for God. It is not possible for you to learn the ways of God until you learn to empty yourself.” That is a good lesson for all of us to learn.

When we are 100% dependent on God’s grace and admit that we are nothing, that admission impresses God to the extent that we have earned God’s favour and God’s life. This parable invites us to reflect on our claims to righteousness and goodness and whether it puts us in a position of justification and righteousness with God.

Bibliography

  1. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2009)
  2. Daniel Clendenin, Ph.D., “Lord Have Mercy: What’s Wrong and What’s Right?” Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net
  3. John Shearman’s Lectionary Resource, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Year C. Retrieved from http://lectionary.seemslikegod.org
  4. Jang Ho Park, “How DO We Pray?” Retrieved from www.thisistoday.net
  5. James MacDonald, “Freedom from Religion”. Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  6. Greg Laurie, “The Right Way to Pray”. Retrieved from www.harvest.org
  7. Dick Inness, “I Have a Problem”. Retrieved from www.actsweb.org
  8. Jude Siciliano, OP “First Impressions, 30th Sunday, Year C” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  9. T.M. Moore, “Pride”. Retrieved from www.colsoncenter.org
  10. George Vink, “Looking at Ourselves”. Retrieved from www.thisistoday.net
  11. Paul DeVries, “A Parable of Prayer”. Retrieved from www.thisistoday.net
  12. Reginald Smith, “Knowing Your Place”. Retrieved from www.thisistoday.net
  13. Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, “God’s Just Rewards”. Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  14. Exegesis for Luke 18:9-14. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  15. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
  16. MacArthur, J.F.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers,; 2006)
  17. King Duncan, “Why Jesus Likes Sinners.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  18. R. Curtis Fussell, “Pride.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  19. Leonard Sweet, “License to Steal”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  20. Dr. Bill Bouknight, “Broken and Beautiful” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  21. Alan J. Weenink, “The Cunning Craftsman, God” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  22. The Rev. Charles Hoffacker, “Two Ways”. Retrieved from www.lectioonary.org

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