05 November 2013

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (2)

I was taught that parables often contain a surprise, which is often harder to recognize the more often that one hears something.

In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the meaning seems obvious: pray like the tax collector and not the Pharisee. But what if I neither the tax collector nor the Pharisee has it right? Or, even stranger, has it all wrong?

Last week, a preacher mentioned that both the Pharisee and tax collector had to learn from each other. I'm not sure exactly how the preacher continued that thought, but the idea of learning from each other set me to thinking. My thoughts turned quickly to wondering if there was something unexpected in the parable that I had been missing.

So I began with asking if the meaning wasn't quite so simple. Could perhaps the tax collector have it wrong?!? The humility and simplicity part seems obviously right. But what about his continuing to be a tax collector? What good does humility do if one continues to sin? Perhaps the Pharisee thus has something right: he recognizes sin and does not wish it for himself. Further, he does his best to practice a lifestyle that is designed to bring him closer to God. The judgement and pride are blatantly wrong, but the Pharisee should not be so easily written off. As many Christians (especially those without sensational conversion stories) can identify with the Pharisee, that is a hopeful thought.

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