Luke 18:9 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."
We Australians, with our fine nose for hypocrisy, have little sympathy for those like the Pharisee in this story of Jesus. We can smell them coming, and we regard them with contempt. We have no time for people like him.
The sting of Jesus' story, of course, is that we may be the Pharisee. We may regard ourselves as basically decent people, "as good as the next person," and end up being the Pharisee. In fact, I wonder if our hatred of rule keeping Pharisaism and 'holier than thou' hypocrisy is really a recognition that they are we. We project our distaste for ourselves onto those we think to be less than ourselves.
Our parish is celebrating The Centenary of Australian Federation this week. How nicely the set reading fits the theme! Are we a nation of Pharisees trusting in ourselves and looking down on those around? Contemptuous of Indonesia's treatment of East Timor and yet rejecting the boat people? Sanctioning the invasion all those years, and now taking the high moral ground... and still not reconciled to aboriginal people in any formal way.�Clearly able to see that however disgraceful, inhuman and unjustifiable the attacks on New York, that American foreign policy has been helping brew just such an event for decades? ... and yet blind to the fact of our puppet like condoning and supporting of the US all those decades. If we were as powerful, would we have been as just and generous as the USA?
We in the Western cultures have trusted in ourselves and treated others with contempt. We are doing it still, even now, with our harassment of Muslims in our midst and the burning of Mosques. We will not go down to our home justified. History will show us wrong.
Oh for a Prime Minister or even a Governor General who would confess that we have been wrong. Who would say that people who fly planes into buildings are wrong, but who would also say that nations which exploit others, who give aid mostly with strings attached, let alone destabilise and threaten other governments in the name of national security, are wrong too. And that we have done some of that, and that we are wrong, and that we wish to do better, and we will not be silent in the face of it because it will affect our trade and good status with a super power if we be Australian and call a spade a spade!
When Jesus words were spoken it was implicitly believed that God judged and God could bless and condemn. God could and would strike out those who were evil. In plain Australian terms the Pharisee had it coming... and would get it. The fact that often the Pharisee of the story did not get it was one of the great puzzles of faith and has slowly contributed with many other factors to the demise of a sense of personal active God for many of us. Today's reading becomes a moral lesson... a strong, valid, and much needed lesson, but only a lesson. For many of us God is not really there in the way the story originally assumed.
God is here. God is mystery. God is not absent from this reading as it comes into our hearing today. A country which trusts in itself, and turns boat people around, or bribes poor island nations to deal with the problem may make strong sounding statements. But one which does not know how to deal with the flood of refugees, yet deals with compassion with those who arrive, and does not relegate them to desert prison camps will be a country living in the presence of God. There will be a fundamentally different spirit abroad. Compassion, not meanness. Very truly, that is the Spirit of God. That is the Spirit which will justify a country. That will be the Spirit which will set a country free and bring it that little bit closer to what we have always called heaven. For it will have faced down a few more of its fears and trusted in what is Good and Right and Merciful, the signs of the Living God.
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