“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.”
The above verse is a line from one of Jesus’ most well-known jokes. The Gospel-writer, Luke, begins by saying that Jesus “told this joke to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt” (Luke 18:9)
My translation of the Greek word, ‘parabolēn’, as ‘joke’, may not be what you’re used to, but it’s true to how the story functions. It starts with two antagonists finding themselves in the same place. We are familiar with this form of humour.
“A square and a triangle walk into a bar …”
I won’t distract you with the punchline for that one until after we’ve dealt with Jesus’ joke which begins with a Pharisee and a tax-collector walking into the temple. Pharisees and tax-collectors are natural antagonists. The former was a pillar of 1st century Jewish society. The latter was a collaborator with the Roman Occupation – an archetypal opportunistic money-grabbing degenerate.
The Pharisee prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people”. He tells the truth. He is not like other people. He is a man of discipline and integrity – an example to the community. While other people had responded to the Roman occupation with violence or by running away, the Pharisees were that key group of community leaders who decided to stick it out alongside the people while trying to maintain an authentic and distinctive religious identity.
The tax-collector was at the opposite end of the social and moral spectrum. He had responded to the military occupation and to the misery of his people by making money out of it. He prays, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” because it is the only prayer he has.
The Biblical scholar, Joachim Jeremias, suggested that the key to appreciating this joke is recognising that Jesus’ audience had already guessed the punchline before he gave it. Everyone knew that Jesus had a soft spot for tax-collectors and other despised people. They had already guessed what Jesus was about to say: “I tell you, not only did the Pharisee have his prayers heard that day but the tax-collector too.” The punchline Jess delivered was not what they were expecting.
“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.” (Luke 18:14)
The tax-collector had his prayers heard that day. The Pharisee did not!
Indeed, the tax-collector goes home “justified”, and the Greek word used here for “justify” (dedikaiōmenos) is the same word that Saint Paul used when speaking of us being “justified by faith” (eg. Romans 5:1). It’s a powerful word, indicating both forgiveness and reconciliation, and it’s the only time this word is used in the Gospels
I doubt that Jesus’ joke got many laughs. Even if His audience did feel a level of sympathy towards traitors/tax-collectors, it still seems a little rough on the Pharisee, and I in terms of where we find ourselves in this story, I suspect that there’s something of that Pharisee in all of us.
I heard of a preacher who concluded his sermon on this passage with a prayer – “we thank you, God, that we are not like the Pharisee in this story”. I hope he was joking.
The Sunday Eucharist
We shared another wonderful Eucharist last Sunday, with a new special guest, Rev. Ivan Harris, along with old friends David Baldwin and Andrew Madry. Enjoy the highlights below. I’ve included quite a bit of our pre-service chat so as to allow Ivan to introduce himself to those who haven’t yet met him.
This Sunday I’m glad to welcome one of our regular worshippers, Kamini, to the Bible-banter panel. I’ll be back at Binacrombi, so I’m not sure exactly who else I’ll have with me. Either way, we’ll be broadcasting from around 11.45 am through the usual channels:
Thanks for your support
Thank you again to all those who give financial support through my Patreon account. It is deeply appreciated. If you haven’t signed up yet but do want to contribute, please choose one of the following options at the Patreon site:
- Middleweight Division ($10/month) where you get access to the member site, along with the videos and other resources.
- Heavyweight Division ($100/month) which includes individual coaching, along with software subscriptions to both Buzzious and Streamout, allowing you both to publish an unlimited number of quality blogs and to livestream.
- Super-Heavyweight division ($400/month) includes all of the above plus me training with you one-on-one – at The Fight Lab and at Binacrombi Bush Camp
What’s on this week?
- Sunday, October 9 – The Sunday Eucharist at midday
- Tuesday, October 11 – Boxing from 6.30 pm @The Fight Lab
- Thursday, October 13 – Boxing from 6.30 pm @The Fight Lab
Two more things before I let you go today:
Firstly, I want to give you the opportunity to watch a special preview of an explosive new movie that is scheduled for official release in a week’s time. It’s Robert F. Kennedy’s, “The Real Anthony Fauci” – a documentary movie based on his best-selling book of the same name.
I read the book when it first came out and found it mind-blowing. The depth and the extent of the corruption that Kennedy details went way beyond anything that I had imagined. I know that Kennedy isn’ looking to make money on the book, and you can download the audio version at no cost here. I can send you a PDF version too if you like. I suspect though that most of you will go straight for the movie, part one of which can be accessed via this special link.
Secondly, the great Malaysian human-rights activist, Dr Chandra Muzaffar, has asked us to support his campaign to persuade the powers- that-be to abandon war and hegemonic politics and work towards genuine peace. The petition is co-authored by Professors Richard Falk and Joe Camilleri. You can sign it here.
Oh …one more thing! I almost forgot to give you the punchline to that joke …
“A square and a triangle walk into a bar. The bartender says, “I bet you guys would like a round”
Jesus’ joke was better. 😉
Your brother in the Good Fight,