“Goody Two-Shoes” October 27, 2019
“Goody Two Shoes”
Joel 2:23-32/ 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 15-18
We’re all familiar with the expression “Goody Two Shoes,” and I imagine we can all pretty much agree on what it means in normal conversation. The official definition of goody two shoes is “a person who always does everything right and always follows the rules, so much so that it becomes annoying.” Does that sound about right? Yea, I thought so. Now, as far as we know, this quaint expression became famous thanks to a children’s book written in 1765 called, “The History of Little Goody Two Shoes.” It’s the story of a poor orphan girl named Margery Meanwell who goes through life with only one shoe. When a rich gentlemen gives her a complete pair, she is so happy that she tells everyone that she has “two shoes.” She later becomes a teacher, marries a rich widower, and (wouldn’t you know it) lives happily ever after. The moral of the story was popular at the time – virtue and goodness will be rewarded. End of story. So, you have to wonder how it is that if someone calls you a goody two shoes, it is meant as an insult. Little Margery Meanwell was a darling character; everyone loved her. She wasn’t annoying at all. But we’ve twisted it up over the years, as we are sometimes want to do. So what I’m trying to say is that if perhaps some mean person were to call you a goody two shoes, just relax. Give them a big smile and thank them, because it’s not that big of a deal- – not when you know the real story of Goody Two Shoes.
In this week’s gospel story, Jesus tells a parable to a group of folks that Luke says “had convinced themselves that they were righteous.” That’s all we know. They’re not Pharisees or religious leaders necessarily; Luke only tells us they were “certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else in disgust.” You talk about a tough audience. So Jesus tells a parable.
Two men go up to the temple to pray. The first is a Pharisee, a religious leader, an insider, and a big part of the spiritual life in the community. His prayer is meant to be a prayer of thankfulness – of genuine gratitude – but it comes off more like a progress report to God: “I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers.” And then with all the humility he can muster, he brags about how pious he has been: “I fast twice a week, I give a tenth of my income.” When he is finished, he gets up and goes on his way. We can assume that – and this is important – we can assume that he leaves the temple feeling exactly the same way he felt when he walked in: just fine. No growth, no change: just fine like always.
The second man is a tax collector. Now, I have racked my brain to come up with a modern day example of what it might be like as a tax collector in those times. Imagine being a person born a Jew, living under Roman domination, and yet to make a few bucks you have volunteered to collect taxes from your people to give to the Romans so that they can continue to use and abuse your people.
He is a traitor to his own people. He stands far off, at the back of the temple, beats his chest, and refuses to raise his head toward heaven. He prays just one thing: “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” It is at this point that Jesus tells his audience “who had convinced themselves that they were righteous” that it is the tax collector, not the Pharisee, who will go home justified, saying, “for all who lift themselves up will be brought low, and all who make themselves low will be lifted up.” And there you have it, the moral of the story: don’t be proud or arrogant like the Pharisee, but instead be humble like the tax collector. This was easy; piece of cake. Not all parables are this simple. But it’s a funny thing; the moment I began to pat myself on the back for being so clever, I realized that this was a trap. Because at that moment I realized that my prayer was something like, “Lord, I thank you that I am nothing like that Pharisee in your story. Thank you that I have been able to grow in my faith, to be more spiritually aware and awake and alive. Thank you, Lord, that I am not like I was before. Thank you that I am not like the doubters and the haters and those who turn their back on the gift of your grace; the gift of your salvation. Thank you that I am more like the tax collector,” and that’s when I had to stop. I had to stop because my own prayer had given me away. I had to stop because it’s a little disturbing to realize you have joined the ranks of “those who had convinced themselves they were righteous.” God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Luke repeated these words in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:21) and Paul reminded us again in Romans 10:13 Whoever calls on the name of the Lord (in prayer) will be saved. The Pharisee in this parable was indeed righteous – we can’t fault him for that. He strived to obey the law, he was diligent, and was successful at doing just that. His problem was, it went to his head. Our problem – those of us who have convinced ourselves we are righteous – is that we will fall short. Sooner or later, we will fall short. And when we do, we come to realize that our righteousness is not enough.
Speaking of the tax collector, Jesus said (Lk 18:14) I tell you, this person went down to his home justified. Justified…a tricky word, but it doesn’t need to be. All we need to understand is that to be justified is to be called righteous- to be counted righteous – by God. That’s only going to happen if we call on his name as the sinners we are, not compared to the sinners they are or the sinners we used to be. To call on the name of the Lord is to lay it all out there. To call on the name of the Lord is to acknowledge our sin; to bring it out of the dark and give it a name, to openly confess that we are a big beautiful mess made in the image of God. That’s when the healing begins. That’s when we can be counted righteous by our merciful God, and that’s what matters.
So, how could such a simple parable get so complicated? I guess it doesn’t need to be. Let’s just say that our righteousness in the eyes of the world is a fine thing; having one shoe is better than none at all. But to be justified – to be called righteous by our God – is salvation, and there’s nothing like the feeling of two shoes on your feet when you’ve had only one your whole life. Amen & Shalom