What makes a Pharisee?

A sermon preached at Our Saviour Lutheran Church on the 11th Sunday after Trinity
Date: 7 August 2016
Text: Luke 18:9–14

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Those of us who are familiar with the teachings of Jesus, and have been steeped in the Christian doctrine, know exactly what to think of this very familiar parable of Jesus. Our sympathy is with the tax collector, and we shake our heads in disbelief at the blind arrogance of the Pharisee. How can he be so blind to his own faults, and so oblivious to the mercy of God towards all sinners? How can he boast so blatantly of his spiritual achievements, and have so little concern for the salvation of his humble and penitent fellow-creature in the corner?

But before we settle down too comfortably, it might be worth asking how Jesus would tell the parable were he the one preaching this morning. Who is the Pharisee today, and who the tax collector? Is this a story told to comfort us, or to shake us out of our comfort zone?

So let’s remind ourselves who the Pharisees were. Far from the pantomime villains that we tend to think of, the Pharisees were the good people of their time. They were devout Jews who had dedicated their lives to the study of God’s word, and of applying God’s word to their lives. In the words of the New Testament letter of James, they strove to be more than just hearers of the word, and to be doers of the word as well.

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