May 16 2013
Did you ever sneak into a church hoping to go unnoticed? You sit at the back closest to the door while those who are regulars march confidently to the front. This is how the tax-collector in Jesus’ parable may have felt when he crept into the temple area to confess he was a sinner. I am referring to the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector that went to the temple to pray (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee was a regular; he was probably at the temple every day. As he walked through the gates he would have been greeted as ‘Rabbi’ and would have nodded to his acknowledgers before heading to his usual spot at the front near the Holy Place. This was as close as a Rabbi or any Jew could get to the place of God’s presence if they weren’t a priest, and he would have stood there facing the Holy Place while praying with his hands out stretched.
The tax-collector was an outcast in his community. Tax-collectors were considered traitors because they collected taxes from the Jews on behalf of Rome. But they were also considered conmen because they collected more than they should and kept the excess for themselves. So it would have appeared hypocritical for him to be seen praying at the temple outside of the compulsory annual festivals, and so he probably snuck inside the courtyard gate and stood at the back hoping no one would notice.
Jesus chose two opposite stereotypes for his parable. Choosing a Pharisee and a tax-collector was like choosing a Bishop and a barman, and Jesus had every intention of carrying the theme to its eye opening conclusion. More