You Be the Judge

By Rev. Heidi L. Barham |  October 23, 2022

Click here to listen to the service 
Read Luke 18:9 – 14
Our text this morning is often referred to as the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector… and as we look at Luke’s Gospel, this parable follows immediately after Jesus’ telling of the Parable of the Persistent Widow. 
Now, one might imagine that after hearing about a widow who pled her case before someone who Jesus described as an unjust judge… there just may have been some people gathered around who were thinking pretty highly of themselves.
I mean, it’s only natural right? 
You hear a story about someone who has done something outrageous or you witness someone engaging in some outlandish behavior and you can’t help but think, “Phew, I’m so glad I’m not like that person…”
It’s fairly easy for someone who has achieved success in the weight loss battle to sit in judgment of someone else who is obese and yet continues to overeat.
It’s relatively easy for people who have overcome an addiction to drugs or alcohol to cast a critical eye on those who are still indulging… despite all of the warnings about the dangers of substance abuse.
It can even be easy for the person who has managed to get out of debt to look disapprovingly at someone who is on the verge of filing bankruptcy because their outgo has exceeded their income to the point of no return.
But let me say this… even if it seems “easy” that does not make it right. 
And on that note, I want to invite us to listen to our text again… this time, as it appears in the Message Paraphrase:

He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’  “Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’”   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.”
Reflecting on that text, while it may seem all too easy for us to sit in that seat of judgment… perhaps we can agree that by all rights what we should be doing is humbly surrendering that seat to the only one who has ever been fit to occupy it… and we should be saying to Jesus…
Now, I don’t think it comes as a surprise to any of us that the entertainment industry has made a fortune on the concept of judging other people. 
From shows like the People’s Court, Divorce Court, and Judge Judy… where average everyday people come before a judge or magistrate with the hope of emerging victorious in some legal matter…
To shows like American Idol, the Voice, and Dancing with the Stars where contestants willingly submit themselves to the sharp critique of celebrity “judges” in hopes of being selected for the top prize… complete with all of the accolades and awards that accompany it…
Opportunities for people to sit in judgment of one another abound.
But, if you have ever watched any of these shows and listened to the way that some of the judges speak to the people… it can be enough to make you cringe and wonder why anyone would subject themselves to this kind of treatment, especially on national television… 
And with all the streaming services and on-demand options we have at our fingertips now… these shows will live far longer into the future than the participants may want them to.
Now, if the ratings are any indication, we, as a society, clearly find great entertainment value in sitting back and watching as these judges say many of the things that we quite possibly have been thinking ourselves…
Add to that the fact that some of the shows even have the opportunity for the watching audience to call in and cast their vote… essentially granting them license and telling them: YOU BE THE JUDGE.
But I am reminded of what Jesus said in Matthew 7 (1 – 2), “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
And that is exactly why I am willing to stand here today and declare that you will never catch me on any one of those shows… if for no other reason than out of fear of retribution for the things I have said and thought whenever I have watched one of those shows in the past… [So, to all the contestants I have ever judged harshly and unfairly, I do hereby apologize profusely!]
Let me suggest that when we are tempted to try to occupy that seat of judgment, whether in real life or some other virtual form of reality … we would do well to stop and ask ourselves a few questions.
Question 1: Who am I to think that I have gotten things all right in my life?
Question 2: Who am I to think that I am any better than anyone else?
And question 3: Who am I to think that I am no longer in the place of desperate need of God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness?
The Apostle Paul summed it up this way in his letter to the Romans (12:3):
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
That means, before we pick up the gavel or before we put on that judge’s robe… let us instead look to Jesus and say with conviction: YOU BE THE JUDGE.
Now looking back at our New Testament lesson for the morning, we find that there were two men who went to the temple to pray.  One was a Pharisee and the other one was a tax collector. 
Upon closer examination of the text… what we see is that while they went to the same temple… it seems they had two very different ideas about prayer.
First Thessalonians 5:17 reminds us that we should pray without ceasing
and Philippians 4:7 encourages us that we ought to give thanks and pray in every situation. 
While over in James 5:16, we read that the prayer of a righteous person avails much. 
And let us not forget that Jesus took the time to teach us how to pray and even gave us a model prayer to follow (Matthew 6:9 – 13; Luke 11:1 – 4).
Putting it all together… it would seem that prayer is a good thing, right? 
Well, that all depends on who we are praying to and exactly what we are praying for and praying about…
Looking at verse 11 of our text we read about the Pharisee standing up and praying about himself…  And it wasn’t like he was asking God for help with a certain situation or soliciting divine intervention to change his circumstances… like fixing his poor health or something…. 
No, this Pharisee… under the pretense of praying… was really just puffing out his chest… basically saying, “Listen to how good I am when I compare myself to everyone else.” 
This Pharisee came into the Temple, the house of prayer… and had the audacity to say, “I am so glad I am not like all of those people… or even like that tax collector over there.”   And then went on to highlight what he believed to be his “righteous” acts of fasting and tithing…
But I am reminded of what Jesus taught the disciples in Matthew 6 (5 – 6):
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And a little further down we read, “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”
In other words, fasting and praying is not about putting ourselves on public display so that we can be recognized for the acts that we perform – and if the truth be told, if we are behaving like this Pharisee… we really are just putting on an “act.”
 But if we take a closer look at the tax collector… we come away with an entirely different picture. 
Now keep in mind, tax collectors were generally not considered to be nice people.  In fact, by most accounts they were despised…
Many times, when we read about them in the scriptures… the tax collectors are lumped right in together with sinners.
For example, in Matthew 9 (10), we read, “And as he sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples.”
In Mark 2 (16), we read, “And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’”
And in Luke 7 (34), we read, “The Son of man has come eating and drinking; and you say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”
So, we should not simply gloss over the fact that Jesus contrasted this “high and mighty” Pharisee with a lowly and despised tax collector. 
These two men were seemingly on opposite ends of the spectrum between sin and righteousness.
But just think about what the tax collector… this lowly sinner… says in his prayer…
Not even feeling worthy enough to look up to heaven, but instead beating his breast while standing at a distance… this tax collector simply said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
In essence, saying, “God, YOU BE THE JUDGE, because all I have done is mess up.”
Let me suggest that WE ought to follow the example of this tax collector.
We ought to come before the throne of grace and ask God to have mercy on us. 
We ought to be transparent and vulnerable enough to say to the Lord, “I AM like those other people… and so, I humbly bow before you, in need of forgiveness for [you fill in the blank].”
But now there is some really good news for us today, over in 1 John (1:9), we find these words, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
The scripture says if we confess…. then… because He is faithful, God will forgive.  But first we have to be willing to confess our sins… to acknowledge that we deserve to be judged for our actions.
And make no mistake about it… as the Apostle Paul reminds us… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23).  But thankfully, he goes on to tell us that, all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
Jesus gave His life as a ransom for us.  He paid a debt He did not owe because we owed a debt we could not pay.
Romans 6:23 tells us that, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
That gift that God gave us through Jesus’ death on the cross is called grace… something that is sometimes defined as God’s unmerited favor or God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense… but it is so much more than that.
God’s grace is the greatest gift we could have ever imagined and something we will never deserve… no matter how good we try to be. 
The Pharisee mistakenly thought that his good deeds made him more righteous than the tax collector but Jesus said it was just the opposite… telling His listeners, I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Whose example do we want to follow?
Do we want to be like the Pharisee consumed by a sense of self-righteousness? 
Or, do we want to be like the tax collector… humble and transparent before the Lord… open to receiving the grace and mercy that God desires to shower upon His people?
The choice is yours… YOU BE THE JUDGE.