LUKE 18:9-14. THE CONTEXT
This morning’s Gospel reading from Luke follows several related incidents. In this part of the story, Jesus is teaching his disciples about humility by using a parable of a Pharisee and a tax collector.
Jesus was always trying to get across to his followers to leave their arrogance at the door and to walk humbly before God.
The Pharisee was a member of the religious elite who valued his position in the community and generally looked down upon folks who did not have his level of education.
When he was in the synagogue and prayed, he thanked God about himself. He thanked God that he was not like robbers, evildoers or tax collectors.
He proclaimed in his prayer that he fasted twice a week and that he donated a tenth of all that he received.
The tax collector, who was standing at a distance could not even look up to heaven. He beat his breast in supplication and asked God to have mercy on him…a sinner.
The conclusion of Jesus was that the tax collector would be looked upon favorably by God because he had humbled himself as opposed to the Pharisee who bragged to God about how pious he is.
We have heard in previous lessons about how the disciples tried to compete with each other to be the first among equals. In the Gospel of Mark, James and John, the sons of Zebedee asked Jesus to let them sit at his right hand and left hand when he came into glory.
When the other ten disciples found out about their request, they became indignant.
Jesus called them together by explaining those that rule over the Gentiles (like Caesar) lord it over them and their high officials exercised authority over the people they were assigned to govern.
He reminded and admonished his disciples that the disciple that wanted to become great among his fellows must first be the servant, and whoever wanted to be first must be the slave of all.
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
When I was an Army officer on Active Duty, I was working an assignment in an office building at Bailey’s Crossroads. I worked for an Army agency responsible for transporting military personnel and equipment to where needed.
I was pretty full of myself back then. I was a Major and in my mid 30’s and had achieved a measure of success thus far in my career. I had completed the Army’s Command and General Staff College and felt that I was at the top of my game.
I was presented with a problem…the Russians and their allies in the Warsaw Pact were gathering intelligence through their fleet of commercial ships.
These ships would dock and unload their cargo near some of our most sensitive military port facilities. They were so bold that their personnel actually stood on the sterns of their ships and filmed the loading and unloading of military supplies and equipment.
If a ship bound for Germany for an annual exercise was loading their equipment, the Russians would know which unit’s equipment was being transported as well as the unit’s capabilities based upon the type of equipment being loaded.
My job was to come up with a plan to deny them that intelligence. By doing some research, I learned that there was a multi-governmental committee called the “Port Security Committee.” Membership consisted by the US Navy, the US Coast Guard, the US State Department and the US Department of Commerce. The Army was represented by the Army Security Agency, also called the ASA.
The plan involved notifying the ASA whenever we were notified of military movement of people or equipment. They would pass that information to the committee where the US Coast Guard would take the responsibility to restrict access to the commercial ports during military load outs.
For a while, this plan was working…the Russians and their friends were not getting the intelligence they need to monitor our activities.
About this time, I was notified that I had made the Lieutenant Colonel’s promotion list.
Meanwhile, another problem arose pertaining to the communist ships and American ports…the Coast Guard Captain of the Port had restricted the New York-New Jersey Port complex off limits to Warsaw Pact shipping for 30-days.
That meant that Russian, Polish, Czech, Estonian, Ukraine, Lithuanian, East German, Bulgarian, Hungarian, and Romanian ship were prevented from landing their cargos in New York or New Jersey for 30 days.
Those countries protested to the State Department, the Longshoreman’s Union complained to the Commerce Department. The Captain of the Port blamed The Coast Guard for the task and the Coast Guard blamed the ASA and the ASA blamed me…
Meanwhile, I was ordered to report to the Pentagon to be interviewed by Pete Williams, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. A vacancy had occurred in his office and the person who had left the position was supposed to be the new Military Assistant to the Under Secretary of the Army.
However, he was not allowed to report to the new job until his replacement was in place. I was interviewed by Williams and returned to my job at Bailey’s Crossroads and 30 minutes later discovered that I had won the job.
However, they were expecting me to report for the new job the next morning. My current boss was out of town, I had no orders and I knew that I could not leave my command in the lurch…so I stalled.
Finally, the officer that I was replacing encouraged his new boss to summon me to the Pentagon to explain why I could not report to my new job.
I was summoned to the Pentagon to appear before the Honorable John Shannon, Under Secretary of the Army.
After a preliminary greeting, he got right to the point of the meeting…what was it that I did that was so important that was preventing me from reporting to my new assignment?
I explained my duties with the Army’s Military Traffic Management Command and the problem with the Coast Guard and the ports of New York & New Jersey.
He told me, “If you died tomorrow, we would replace you.”
I have never felt so small at any time in my Army career.
He asked when I was planning to report and I told him the day after Christmas, which was about a week and a half away…so that became my reporting date.
Jesus struggled with his prideful Disciples right up to the night before he was crucified.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus and his disciples were celebrating Passover…while the meal was being served, Jesus stripped himself of his outer garments, wrapped a towel around his waist and brought out a bowl of water and towels and began to wash the feet of his disciples.
Peter and the others protested, but Jesus was firm in his insistence that he be allowed to wash their feet…reminding them that he who wishes to be first must first be a servant before he can be served.
We celebrate this on Maundy Thursday…the day (or evening) before Good Friday.
That lesson has even shown up in 20th Century entertainment. The former television show “Fung Fu” depicted many universal lessons of morality and behavior.
The quote that always stuck with me came from Master Khan, the Shaolin temple leader who taught the young Kwai Chang Kane, “Remember always that a wise man walks with his head bowed; humble like the dust.”
May we be humble before our creator, as we accept the many tasks that he assigns to us in this life.