Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:  "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.'  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” It is said that one day Thomas Jefferson was bragging of his virtues to a Quaker friend. The Quaker friend responded, you are missing one virtue Thomas, the Virtue of humility. Later a friend asked Thomas if he ever attained humility and Thomas answered, “no, but I fake it quite well.“ I can relate to that one, One perhaps wonders how that happens, that you brag about virtues, it seems a bit self contradictory. Yet we do it often enough one way or another, perhaps not so crassly. But we celebrate our accomplishments and blame them on our virtues often enough, often feigning humility enough to pacify the moral sensibilities of our neighbors. Feigning humility is the best we can do. So how is it that one accomplishes the maxim Christ here presents? How does one avoid exalting himself so that he is not humbled? How does one humble himself that he/ she might be exalted? How does one avoid taking pride in their humility? Yes, let’s make this a sermon about the virtue of humility rather than the exaltation of Christ, and the mercy of God towards sinners. Lets for a minute encourage the feigning of humility. I like that idea, because as much as I take pride in my humility, I love to encourage the hypocrisy of others.
Of course the public feeds on that sort of thing. Humility comes in and out of fashion, as do other virtues, chastity seems to be on the wane today. But people like Moralism. It’s our nature. I like Moralism. I just choose to like different morals than others. And that is what makes for the hypocrisy of Moralism, the hypocrisy of humanity. And if you were to preach this text as a lesson in why you should be humble, or practice humility, rather than on the mercy of God, the product of the sermon would be more Pharisees, albeit one’s feigning humility standing in the corner thanking God that he made them humble unlike those arrogant sinners over there.
See I think the Pharisee would have considered himself quite a humble person. I have never met a Pharisee who thought he wasn’t. In fact I tend to think that one’s arrogance increases the more one thinks they are actually humble. In essence the more you aren’t aware of your own arrogance, the higher propensity it has to show itself in your dealings with others. This arrogance often masks itself as piety. For instance strictures about what a person should or shouldn’t wear. Accusing others of being vain for having the audacity to dress nice and wear jewelry, or some other such nonsense. Excuse them for caring enough about what someone else thinks of them to dress in such a manner as to show it. In times past it might have been considered being polite. But such is the plight of Moralism and legalism.
Of course I doubt that the tax collector was really a pillar of humility. The New Testament doesn’t spend near as much time on tax collectors as it does on Pharisees. Seems Jesus was harder on Pharisees, because for all their study of scripture they ought to have known better than they did. But Jesus does have a few interactions with tax collectors, and it is hard to see from these that they paragons of humility as a people. Sinners and tax collectors seem to be somewhat synonymous terms, they at least had a habit of hanging out with each other. Matthew was a tax collector. When Jesus called him to be a disciple, he threw a party that included many tax collectors and sinners. It incensed the Pharisees who saw it. Jesus does seem to have had somewhat an affinity for tax collectors, everyone remembers the story of Zacchaeus, probably a friend of Matthews. He all but admits to having been a thief. See tax collectors made good money defrauding and embezzling with authority from the state. They lived in nice houses, drank fine wine, ate the best food, threw the best parties, it seems prostitutes made up large portions of their entourage. They weren’t known for attending synagogue or going to the temple. Not typically the type of person one thinks of as being humble.
But neither does the tax collector try to draw attention to his virtues. He sees no reason why God should have mercy on him. He knows only that he is a sinner in need of the mercy of God. This is a man who has been humbled, who is willing to admit to his situation. He is a sinner, throwing his cares and worries on God. Be merciful to me a sinner.
That’s what Jesus knew about us, that’s what he knows. He is under no illusions. He knows who you are. He knows you are a sinner. He knows that at times you might have the same clarity of thought as the tax collector and admit you are a sinner. At times, and perhaps even more often you will be as delusional as the Pharisee, to actually think your doing a good job upholding God’s law, and even being humble about it. He knows your humblest moment just might be when you admit you’re not. But it really isn’t about exalting yourself or playing humble, but recognizing that without the mercy of God you and everyone you know is lost. That it’s not about you at all in the end. But about the one who humbled himself to become one of us, to die in our place, to carry his cross that he might show mercy to all, the tax collector and Pharisee, you and me. That God would exalt him and raise him from the dead to give us life. For Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, But the one who humbled himself to be born of a virgin, to be made man for us men and for our salvation, to die on the cross for the sins of the world, Jesus Christ is exalted. He is our Lord, who sits at the right hand of God, from when he will come to judge the living and the dead. Yes the one who humbled himself for our sake, So he is the one we exalt when ever we cry Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy. And Mercy he has for you a sinner, Mercy he has for you an extortioner, Mercy he has for you one who is unjust, Mercy he has for you an adulterer, mercy he has for you a tax collector, and believe it or not, Mercy he has for you and the Pharisee that lurks in all of us.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Chris Jesus our Lord. Amen.