The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
“There is no “Them”
Hi! My name is Darcie Dunlop, I am not a pastor. I am actually a Marriage and Family Therapist,
and today I speak from my place of equality, not authority. Today, I am the one who talks, with
many who are listening.
Listen from your own space and see if it resonates with what you already know to be true.
Maybe it will touch something inside of your own wisdom. Maybe it will illuminate something
there that will support you in your own life.
Because, what is sacred is illuminated for each of us differently. You have your own biology,
your own up-bringing and experiences in life that have taught you who God is to you. Our
beautiful ideas of spirituality, basically who God is to us, are here to help us have joy on this
earth, to learn to deeply love ourselves and others, to live in grace with whatever we hold
sacred, and in that love and grace, we learn to live in humility and equality, neither better than
nor less than anyone else. These beliefs help me to live in peace when I am centered around
them. Whatever we believe needs to work for that. And as long as our beliefs don’t victimize
others, we are allowed to have them. Whatever you believe is welcome here.
So what about this parable? We all know which guy we’d rather be.
Here’s what the Pharisee said…‘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.’ How rude! Who would do that? Stand in public and berate everyone beneath them. I’m not like
that. Or am I? Let’s talk about how I feel after watching the news. Or when I see the protesters for the other
side! Or any time I hear certain public people even open their mouth. Now, I am upset and
angry over the state of our country. Thank God that I am not like the senators that can’t seem
to have a voice of their own. The corrupted other-party, the spineless jellyfish. They just let the
madness continue. I write to my congressional representative, I hold signs, I send money. I pray
for the peace of this nation. I’m sure that God and Jesus are on my side. Oops. I kinda do sound
This story can be a “two for one”, if we let it, meaning we can relate with both of these guys. I’d
like to see myself as the nice, humble tax collector, but also as the Pharisee. Because, with
some people, some of the time, I act like a Pharisee. And while uncomfortable, considering the state of our nation, I believe it is important to be
able to identify with the Pharisee right now.
Let’s switch over to politics for a minute…Studies from the past decade have shown that there
is a correlation with the traits of authoritarianism, conservative beliefs and social dominance,
and the tendency to dehumanize groups other than themselves. No surprise there, speaking as
the Pharisee. (Kteily et al. 2015)(Stevenson et al. 2015)
From an article in Political Behavior from July 2019 authored by Paul Piff. “Party Animals? Party Identity
Here’s the humbling part… An experiment by Dr. Paul Piff, a social psychologist at UCI, was
published that claims that both Democrats and Republicans engage in this behavior at roughly
the same rate. Three studies with a large number of participants, spanning 4 years with four different
measures, found that members of each party are consistently willing to dehumanize members
of the opposing party.Those in one party are willing to explicitly state that members of the opposing party are like
animals, that they lack essential human traits, and that they are less evolved than members of
their own political party.
You know what else I will tell you today? That while I may not say it out loud, sometimes I think
it. There he is…the Pharisee. Right inside my own body. And it’s hurting our world.
I better change the subject. I think I’m safer taking about the 1%. I am not rich. I have no idea
what it feels like to have that type of money. It doesn’t seem fair that if you have enough
money you tend to be healthier, and happier, and you certainly get better health care! How is it
that someone who works as hard as I do has such a hard time making ends meet? Who has all
of my money? I am definitely looking for someone to blame.
Another published paper by Dr. Piff…titled “Higher Social Class Predicts Increased Unethical
Behavior,” The studies shows the higher class as less ethical, more selfish, more insular, and
less compassionate than other people. One experiment even showed them taking candy from a
bowl of sweets designated for children. Who would do that! Piff says, “the rich are way more
likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people. It makes them
more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, (and I quote)
There’s the proof I’m looking for! You are unfair! You are exploiting me. Selfish, in-bred,
unethical, corrupted. There he is the Pharisee.
Here’s the humbling part…Dr. Piff conducted an experiment about 5 or 6 years ago called the
Monopoly Experiment. In this experiment a flip of a coin determined who was going to be rich
for that game. The “rich” received twice as much money at the beginning and throughout the
game. They also were given two dice to roll, while the “poor” participant only received one.
Soon, the “rich” player begins to display dominant behavior, moving the pieces around the
board loudly. Smacking their hands on the table, eating more pretzels than the “poor” player,
taunting them. Here I quote, “Putting someone in a role where they’re more privileged and
have more power in a game makes them behave like people who actually do have more power,
more money, and more status,” says Paul Piff. Here’s the kicker…After the game, when asked
why they won, most would talk about their own abilities, their own savvy. They forgot about
the flip of the coin that made them wealthy in the first place.
Most of us won’t be surprised by this. Having money seems to decrease empathy. But that is
not why I am citing these experiments. The take home point is that the people in the
monopoly game were assigned randomly. That means that if you or I had been the “rich”
person, we are likely to have acted similarly to the others. That is not very comfortable. I’d like to think I would be different, but the people in the studies are “just like me”, and they found themselves behaving poorly after randomly being selected as
the privileged player. When I look at the parable, I need to identify with the Pharisee. He is like me. And I am like
him. We were both trained from birth to be exactly who we are. The Pharisee, in reality, has the
same intrinsic worth as others, even the tax collector, but he was never taught that. He was
taught that he was to be separate from, and better than all the people he was scorning. And,
you don’t have to read very far into the new testament to find that Jesus had a problem with
the beliefs and behaviors of Pharisees. He had a problem with their hypocrisy. He also had a
problem with their rules that were so rigid that practically no one, not even the Pharisee, could
follow them. In Matthew, Jesus says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You
lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you
allow entrance to those trying to enter.” (Matthew 23:13) The stories about Jesus show a
fierceness to defend the marginalized. Jesus is the great equalizer. Jesus was a wisdom teacher.
The lofty will be brought down and the lowly lifted up. Maybe he was saying we can meet in the
Worthiness, we are all worth the same. Neither better than, nor less than. My brother-in-law
had a gun safe. He had all sorts of guns in there. He had an opinion; I had an opinion. Both of us
had reasons for our opinions. Knowing this helps keep me from judgement. In order to
understand this idea of worth, it is important to separate in our minds who we are from what
we do. The reason we do the things we do is because of who we understand ourselves to be.
The values and beliefs we have adopted over the years. Influenced by our sense of physical and
emotional safety. On how we grew up and the experiences we have had in our lives. This guy,
the Pharisee, thought he was worthwhile because of all the great things that he did. He didn’t
realize that these didn’t matter at all. That he was already worthy without doing all of those
things. However, his behavior could use some change. So now, I hope, we can identify as the Pharisee. We don’t have to like it, but we own it. And this is, in fact, a good thing. Because you cannot solve a problem you do not own. You can only
blame, judge, and criticize others, and perhaps make laws. So, owning it is the first part in
Now, about the tax collector…they were known to be notorious thieves, and I believe we are to
assume that he is suffering because he has come to understand that he is a “sinner”, which
means in the Gospels that he had made a mistake, or had failed in his task. So what he does is
what we all need to do when we do wrong and feel guilty. We feel remorse. And then we admit
to it. This is all we get of his story, and that’s a good start. He’s done the first two steps. We
hope that he’s going to continue with the next two steps… make amends to the people that he
has harmed, and then…Change! Because when we do those 4 things, what ends up happening
is we become able to forgive ourselves. He has a belief in a forgiving God, which doesn’t hurt!
And when you believe you are forgiven by God, you have a much easier time forgiving yourself.
Just like when we make amends to other people and they forgive us we have a much easier
time forgiving ourselves. The tax collector already knew that he was part of the problem, and in
order for any lasting change to happen, we have to know that somehow, we are part of the
So what do we do with this? For one, to accept that we have many places in our lives where we
don’t understand that we are part of the problem. When we don’t get that, we put our energy
into finding fault and blame. We do it at home, at work, in the car, in the grocery store, in my
backyard talking with my neighbor, Gloria. It’s our first energy. To blame. Something is
wrong…it must be you!
Here is a novel idea…Everyone is always doing the best they can. That is just a true statement.
We are always solving problems, perhaps different problems than the one we think, but solving
problems, nonetheless. I’m not saying it’s always effective, I’m just saying we are trying to solve
a problem. So, we are all doing the best we can, AND, we can do better. Both of these
statements are true. Think of it. The last time you didn’t do better…If you could have, you
would have. But you didn’t. Because you couldn’t. …In that time, in that place, with those
people, with that learning, and that energy, you couldn’t. It is what it is. There will be
consequences and rewards to whatever happened. That is everyone’s story. Not better than,
not less than. What benefit is there to believe I could have and just didn’t? Or they could have,
and just didn’t? All it does is to poke at shame, and to feel yet again like a failure, or yet again
like a victim. No one changes from shame. Not in a lasting way. Instead of finding fault and
blame, when we are able, we become accountable by doing the 4 steps the tax collector did,
have remorse, admit it, and make it right. We look at the causes and conditions of our behavior
and make changes.
It is so important for me to separate the idea of who I am from my ways of coping with the
world. And it’s very important to separate others from who they are, and their ways of coping
with the world. I am positive that the things we don’t like about ourselves and others is only
our ways of coping, it is NOT who we are inside, underneath all of that fear. I also believe that
most of us have good intentions.
You know, about my brother-in-law and his gun safe? If you had asked him why he owns guns,
he would have said because I want to protect me and my family. If you ask me why I don’t own
guns, I will say because I want to protect me and my family.
To look at the “other” and say that you are evil and you have evil intentions in your heart and
you want to hurt people, and you just want to be rich and you don’t care about anyone is unfair
and untrue. Intentions tend to be something we assume and seeing into the hearts of others is
way above my pay grade.
Here I quote, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously
committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and
destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.
And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag
The point isn’t to judge it. The point, according to the poet Auden, is “to love your crooked
neighbor with your own crooked heart.” Just to see that we are all in this together.
So, we are a “we”, There is no “them”. There is only an us. We are OK. Our behaviors could use
some change. This is the starting point. I want to look into the world to see people who are
human. Just like me. What we need right now is Unity. That is the problem we need to solve
and there are many behaviors going on right now that are destroying that. When I get right down in it, like the tax collector where I am remorseful, and I’m coming from my true self, the one that isn’t guarded and defending with all of my good deeds. The one that
knows I have good deeds, and also knows I do things that aren’t very good, and that’s because
I’m human, and that’s OK, because we are all more alike than different. Our worthiness does
not come from our failures or successes. That is much too fragile. This is why our feelings of
worthiness fluctuate all the time! That can’t be right! When I know my worth in my heart, and I
know yours, that’s where compassion is born, and this is where change comes from.
How do I, strong, like Jesus, use that passion, not to vilify and dehumanize people, but to puzzle
out the behaviors that need change? Starting with me! I want to watch my speech, internal and
external. I don’t want to entertain it between my ears, and I definitely don’t want to say it out
loud…because I know for sure that that’s not what love does.
Love does not denigrate me, nor does it denigrate you. Next, I want to look toward intention to
the best of my ability, and assume positive intent unless proven untrue. Then we look to
behavior to discover the change that we would like to see. We are allowed to have our own
ideas and beliefs about what will work. My brother-in-law and I have similar intention, however
there will be differences in how we want to solve problems.
We want to make change in the world and it’s important that we speak up, but we do it from a
place of humility, where we are neither better than nor less than, after the soul searching, not a
place of self-righteousness, when we see ourselves as like the world, not above the world, it’s
from that place we do the changing. We are then able to hear others in compassion, recognize
the needs and the fears. From this place we can be more fine-tuned in what we are trying to
reconcile. We approach in love instead of from attack. When we do that we can begin to see
where the beliefs and ideas are different. We can see what is actually broken. It is not a whole
person. And it’s not even the person, it’s our defenses, born out of fear. We are not our
defenses; we have built them for protection. By understanding and accepting our equality, our
worth, we learn to look beyond them and grow out of the ones no longer needed, into our true,
whole, and beautiful selves…who we truly are.
I would like to tell one last story about a monastery in Thailand. In 1957, a road was being built
and the monastery had to move locations. Well, this monastery had a very beloved clay statue
of the Buddha. They wanted to move the statue to the new location. They hired a crane to lift
the Buddha, however, it was much heavier than it looked, and it cracked. For fear of damaging
it more, the crane operator stopped trying to move it. Later that evening, the main teacher
took a flashlight and went to survey the damage. To his surprise, when he flashed the light in
the crack, gold glinted back. The next morning, they chiseled away the clay to find a solid gold
Buddha in the middle. What they believe, is that several hundred years earlier, the monks in
the monastery were anticipating an attack by the Burmese army, so the covered the Buddha
with several layers of clay to disguise it so it wouldn’t be stolen. Unfortunately, all of the monks
were killed, but their plan to camouflage the Buddha worked. No one knew until that day.
I love this story. Inside, we are all golden. Beautiful, made in the image of the divine. However,
life has splattered us with clay, blocking the image of who we really are. We find our worth not
by a process of addition. We are already worthy. We find it by a process of subtraction, by
scraping away all of the mistaken ideas of our brokenness, and spreading THAT message to the
world. Beautifully and wonderfully human…Our behaviors could use some change, all of us. But
there is no “them”, there is only us, and we are all beloved as we are.