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Population Of One

Luke 18:9-14

The Rev. Jon Roberts

23 October


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”


Little Jack Horner, 1934 Lithograph by Ruth Newtown

The kingdom of the self-righteous has a population of one;
They tell of the stories, the riches, they have won.
To them be the glory, the power the fame,
To them, there is nothing more beautiful
than the sound of their name.[1]

This is “tongue-in-cheek” of course and a reminder that the kingdom of the self-righteous has a population of one. Three hundred years ago, another poem was written (c.1725) by the English poet, Henry Carey. It goes like this:

Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said 'What a good boy am I![2]

He was most critical of another poet, Ambrose Phillips, who he called the, “Namby Pamby,” for his legendary arrogance and scholarly self-righteousness. Later, in the 19th century this same poem gained popularity during the time when King Henry VIII was dissolving all the monasteries in England and nationalizing them. In other words, he was stealing them. Knowing there was little to stop the King, the Abbot tried to bribe him by giving the King the deeds of ownership to about a dozen manors secretly hidden from the government. He did this to show that the Church could be a better ally than an enemy. The Abbot knew that it would be hard to pass these deeds along without detection by those around the King so he put them inside of a Christmas Pie to be delivered by his personal assistant, Thomas Horner.

Close enough to the nursery rhyme, “Little Jack Horner,” who “sat in the corner,” just waiting for an opportunity such as this. Before giving the most expensive pie the world has ever seen, Mr. Horner decided to indulge himself by keeping one of the manors for himself, which was the manor of Mells in Somerset. The monasteries were still dissolved, but the King gave a better prize to the church, he established it, making Anglicanism the national church and thereby following a set order of worship as followed in what we refer to as the Book of Common Prayer. The Abbots would retain that power along with the Bishops, until this very day and still receive a benefice.

​What ever happened to Mr. Horner? He continued to enjoy the plum that he pulled out, for along with the manor at Mells in Somerset came along with it the “Lead” mines that would become vital in making military armaments and shot for the country and making him a very, very wealthy man. Ironically the word plum in Latin is plumbum which means, “lead.” To this day, the descendants of the Horner family retain the manor and the mines, but denounce the story of how they won them. They still believe Mr. Horner was a very “good boy.”

There was another who loved the sound of their name and we could argue lived in a population of one. It was the Pharisee in the gospel according to St. Luke, used in Jesus’ parable.[3] He was obviously a man of honor, a man who did his duty, who did everything in accordance to the law but he made a tragic mistake. He assumed that all that he had and all that he earned was based on his own self-righteousness. What a cardinal sin. He went further and made it worse by saying, “I’m not like those sinners, those adulterers and those tax collectors.” He picked the wrong guy, the one who knew of his transactions, many that were not on the up-and-up. The tax collector knew the very worst in the self-righteous Pharisee. He had all the records that could have been damning but he kept his mouth shut. Jesus noticed him and said he was ‘humble.’

How often do we see those who love glory and the sound of their own name, yet their time is borrowed because the kingdom of the self-righteous is a population of one. This is extremely prevalent today and we need to be careful not to make the same mistake, assuming all that we have and all that we owe is because of our doing but rather it is because of our faith in God. Are we the Pharisee or the Tax Collector? Only one is honored by Christ where he says, “This man shall enter the kingdom of God.” This is a good reminder that Jesus looks at all of us and is patient. He waits for us to turn back to him. We are not to be members of the self-righteous but the kingdom of God. All the valor and fame belongs to the most beautiful plum, that leads us today. May we not belong to a population of one, but rather to the kingdom of The One, who is Jesus Christ.

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[2] I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 234–7.
[3] Luke 18:9-14

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