23rd Sunday of Pentecost
October 27, 2013
Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”
Luke 18:14 (The Message)
Ah, the SUV-Sport Utility Vehicle. In the late 90s it ruled American suburbs. It seemed that ever auto maker had to make one, and the kept getting bigger and bigger. Remember the Hummer? I remember someone telling me the big Ford Expedition got something like 9 miles to the gallon. I remember thinking how horrible that was. I saw SUVs as a scourge, harming the environment and making us lazy.
Around the same time that the SUV was large and in charge, another car was making itself known in the American market. In 2001, we saw Toyota unveil the Prius, a gas-electric hybrid. It was the anti-SUV. People who despised SUVs (and the people who drove them) flocked to the Prius to show how conscious they were. (For the record, I did own a Prius a few years ago.)
The first decade of the new century set up conflict between those that loved the big gas guzzling SUVs and those that loved the fuel sipping hybrids. For a while there, a campaign made news urging people to use less resource heavy transportation than the SUV. The campaign came up with these simple words: “What would Jesus Drive?” The answer was that Jesus wasn’t going to be driving a Hummer anytime soon.
When I think about this week’s gospel lesson, I have to think of it in terms of cars. (I even did a sermon based on the Prius back in 2007.) I can see the Pharisee driving a Prius to the temple. He gets out and starts praying to God, “thanking” God for making all the right choices. He shops at Whole Foods, recycles and even drives Prius (his second Prius, by the way). “I thank you God, that I am not like that guy,” he says guestering at the SUV pulling up to the curb.
Another man climbs down from the tall vehicle. He slams the door and falls down to the ground. He’s behind on his mortgage, his oldest son and his son’s wife won’t leave to find a place of their own. His wife was laid off her job the week before and she found out about the affair he was having. She was tired of dealing with his philandering and his alcoholism to boot. After 18 years, she is ready for a divorce.
“Have mercy on me, God! I’ve messed up!”
The reason the Pharisee didn’t go home justified isn’t because he did something wrong. He did all the right things. What he missed is relying on God’s mercy; to know that even if he did the right things, he was still in need of God- something that the tax collector understood all too well.
As we head to church this Sunday, I pray that we can not get caught up in doing the right things, but instead realize that we are made righteous not because of what we have done, but because of what God has done.
By the way, I think Jesus would have taken public transportation, but that’s for another time.