RCL C Proper 25 Complementary
Sirach 35:12-17, Psalm 84:1-6, 2 Timothy 4:6-8 and 16-18, Saint Luke 18:9-14

We have a sharp contrast in the parable that is the Gospel today. The contrast is effectively drawn from the point of view of the characters’ interior. Their innermost thoughts, even unto their prayers, are brought out into the light of day.

The contrast could hardly be sharper. We see a Pharisee, a professionally-religious person, who gives a tenth of his income, who fasts, but who fails to have the right attitude about himself and about God. He misses his own sinfulness and thus his dependence on God’s graciousness. And, further, his sinfulness, unknown to him, he projects on to the tax collector.

That tax collector, a sinner by definition of not keeping the Law of Moses, knows he is a sinner and abjectly puts himself in God’s gracious hands. He has trust in none but God. Is it any wonder that Jesus says of him that he went home justified?[1]

The parable gives us a black and white choice. There’s no gray area in which to plant our feet.

The preacher is tempted, I think, to ask which he is and which the parish is. But I do not want to do that. I want to ask of myself and of you a different question. Which of the two do I and do you want to be?

On one hand do we want to follow the religious rules and condemn those who do not follow them, like the Pharisee? Or, do we want to recognize our shortcomings and rely on God’s graciousness, like the tax collector? For in Christ we have the choice. We are free to be either one. We can change our spots if we wish. God’s power and God’s graciousness make it so.

Only we can type-cast ourselves. Others cannot do it, and God doesn’t do it. The Pharisee tries to type-cast the tax collector and fails. God, as we see, accepts the tax collector.

And in the Gospel next week, we shall see an even greater thing. We shall see a sinner, a tax collector, repent and return to God.

At every moment of our lives, we stand on a single point of physical and spiritual ground. But around that point, wherever it is, lie 360º degrees of possibility. We have the freedom to take a step in any direction we wish. And the deeper truth is, that whatever step we take, that step leads to God. We are blessed whenever and however we decide to put ourselves in God’s hands. We are blessed whenever and however we decide to follow him.

[1] Saint Luke 18:14.