An Updated Look at a Parable

An Updated Look at a Parable


Jan Gregory-Charpentier is the pastor of Kingston Congregational Church in Kingston, RI. Jan recently walked the Camino de Santiago (French Route) and found it a holy and humbling experience

Scripture: Luke 18:9-14 (NRSV)

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’


Reflection: An Updated Look at a Parable


If this parable fails to shock us, we have probably not understood it the way Jesus intended. So, rewrite the parable in your head...

He told this parable to some who congratulated themselves on what they had accomplished in life and assumed others could accomplish the same if they only tried harder: Two women went into the store to buy food, one a young executive who had put herself through college, studied all weekend while her friends partied, got all A’s and landed the primo internship because of her incredible work ethic and articulate self-presentation, and the other mom who had her first child when she was sixteen and her third at twenty and lied on the welfare form about her live-in boyfriend in order to get more food stamps

He told this parable to some who liked being noticed for their eco-friendly lifestyle: Two men pulled up to a stoplight in their respective cars, one in his Toyota Prius, standard transmission (because it gets better fuel efficiency), tires fully inflated (for the same reason), sporting a bumper sticker that read, “Love Your Mother” with a picture of the earth taken from space and his reusable grocery bags folded neatly on the front seat, and the other in gas guzzling SUV which looked like a tank and got approximately 9 miles per gallon…

He told this parable to some who believed God helps those who help themselves: two people went into the doctor’s office, one a young man who watched what he ate, jogged four times a week and took his multivitamin daily, and the other a two-pack a day smoker for 40 years, even now with emphysema and a hacking, phlegmy cough that makes everyone in the waiting room wince each time it explodes from his chest…

Change it up anyway that you can think of that will mess with your categories of good and bad, right and wrong, and then hear the parable again, the way Jesus’ audience would have.

Our problem is we mistake our opinions for God’s and think what we value is what God values, that our judgments of right and wrong are God’s judgments of right and wrong, our definitions of holiness are God’s definitions of holiness. When we get to make up the categories it’s amazing how good we come out smelling!

Jesus repeatedly prefers the faith of tax collectors, prostitutes and beggars. They have lost all pretense that their good standing in life is their own doing.  They throw themselves empty-handed into the harsh, humbling spotlight of their terrible need for God.

And here’s the bottom line: that’s where we all are, we just don’t know it, or admit it, or are so well-off we don’t recognize it. The grace of God is God’s tender-loving compassion for you, God’s fierce mother-lion attachment to you, God prodigal fatherly heart breaking for you, God’s insistent goodness towards you. And if we can just stop dancing so feverishly in the spotlight thinking our dancing is what keeps the light shining on us, but instead realize the light has always been there, will always be there, in fact, is there for everyone, then we are really saved. “Justified” is the word Jesus uses; it means finding yourself in right relationship with God. But sometimes it takes falling flat on our faces before we ever get to that holy place of knowing our terrible need for God and discovering the immensity of God’s loving heart.

So, Jesus told this parable to some… some like me who confuse my good character, my accomplishments, my strengths, my material blessings with God’s favor. God’s grace is what remains when all those things are gone. And the closer I cling to that gospel message, the closer I’ll be to being saved.


Jesus Christ, Love of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.

New Prayer Requests:

We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane at

Prayers of Intercession:

  • For the people of Ukraine whose lives continue to be shattered by war.
  • For those grieving or suffering due to the ~34,840 gun violence deaths in the US this year, including those affected by the false claims regarding the Sandy Hook mass shooting
  • For the people of Venezuela who were affected by a massive and deadly landslide

Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:

 This Week in History:

October 22, 1962 (60 years ago):  JFK’s address on the Cuban Missile Crisis – regarding the U.S. discovering that the Soviets were building medium-range missile sites in Cuba – shocks the nation and for 6 days the world tottered on the brink of nuclear war between two superpowers.” [History

“Study the past if you would define the future.”

Jan Christine Gregory-Charpentier

Jan Gregory-Charpentier is the pastor of Kingston Congregational Church in Kingston, RI. [Photo: Jan walked the Camino de Santiago (French Route) and found it a holy and humbling experience.]  

October 17, 2022
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