We Are the Crowds

Luke 18:9-14John 19:26-27

As I hear this woman speak, I am reminded of the parable Christ told of the Pharisee and the tax collector in the Temple for prayer. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” The tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven. Instead, he was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

The comparison in the gospel story is clear: the Pharisee is the one who is justified according to the Law. The tax collector is the turncoat, the betrayer, the one to be despised. But as they pray, we come to sympathize with the despicable one who asked for mercy rather than the righteous one who said, “Thank God that I am not this tax collector.” But how many of us, when we hear this story, say to ourselves, “Thank God that I am not this Pharisee?”

It is easy for us to compare ourselves with others. We can despise the crowds, people like this woman who stands before us mocking and deriding Christ. It is a simple task to look back and question the wisdom of those leaders who turned Christ over to be crucified. But the truth offers us a moment of real discomfort. These characters tell us more about ourselves than about anyone else. As soon as we judge between the Pharisee and the tax collector, we ourselves are judged. We feel anger at the crowd for spitting on Christ and chanting for his death. But how often do we find it easier to go along with the crowd, to accept the common wisdom? We loathe the scribes and Pharisees for preferring their comfort to the faithfulness at the heart of Christ’s teachings. But how easily have we learned not to rock the boat, or do we even have a stake in the status quo, refusing to recognize the powerful truth that stands before us?

Just four days ago, we were part of that crowd that welcomed Christ into Jerusalem. We waved our branches and sung his praises, driving him toward the Temple and into the hands of cruel suffering. And now, we stand with the likes of this woman, calling for his death and punishment. Or perhaps we cower with Peter, fearing our own suffering, scared into silence and denial of our relationship with him. The painful truth is that we, too, are the crowds and the cowards.

Tonight of all nights, we remember that each one of us, no matter how faithful we might be, is a broken soul, imperfect and in need of salvation. We are truly loved, most fully and perfectly by the one who created us, sculpting us in divine hands. Now he is before us, suffering his final hours at our hands.

sermonsMarthame Sanders