To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
There are some who claim pride to be a good thing. ‘It is confidence in yourself!’ they declare. ‘It shows the world you know who you are!’
In history, where has pride gotten anyone? It has certainly caused things to come about. Our world would not be the same without the prideful leaders and dictators that have divided, conquered, and subdued. Yet God, the Creator and Sustainer, looks down on pride. Do a search in any concordance and you will quickly discover the negative associations. Pride is paired with such things as destruction, foolishness, disgrace, and punishment.
The parable Jesus told in Luke about the Pharisee and the tax collector is iconic. It is a classic Sunday school lesson and sermon topic.
I did not truly grasp the lesson until recently. You have to have some understanding of the culture during Jesus’ time on earth. For example, when I was presented with this story again in the last couple of weeks, I learned that tax collectors were usually Jews. Somehow I had known that before, but it gave new meaning. They were Jews who worked for the Romans; any “good” Jew in that day refused to associate with Rome. Yet tax collectors did so freely, and even cheated their kinsmen to line their own pockets.
On the other hand, the Pharisees were the upright folk of Jewish culture. They knew the law inside and out, debated certain rules, added new ones. They scorned the ill and helpless but “made up” for it by giving the allotted tithe. Their righteousness was so great that you would never see them working on the Sabbath, even if for the good of others. Sound like great religious nuts to hang out with, right?
The lesson Jesus gives in this parable strikes my heart. For all his knowledge and supposed love for God, the Pharisee still missed the point of the law, which is to expose the human’s inability to measure up to a holy God. Instead, he stands where he knows everyone can see and declares to all his own righteousness. In the modern world, this might be comparable to a pastor or bishop or priest standing in front of his congregation and saying, “Look at me! I am so great! Just look at how well I lead you and all the good things I do!” That leaves a bitter taste, to say the least, and no one wants to be around that.
The tax collector, though, recognized his worth in the eyes of culture and stayed back in the shadows. Better still, he recognized his place next to the God of the universe. He saw that his goodness was not enough, that his sins were more than he could bear, and he asked for mercy.
God is mercy, and gives freely. Who does the story say went home forgiven?
I think of the verse in Matthew 6, that says those who pray publicly, like this Pharisee, have received their reward in full. Compared to the glorious riches of God’s goodness and all He has planned for His children, I would not want that.
I am not perfect. That picture is quite clear. But my heart breaks for all the pride, the shamelessness, the lack of respect for Jesus Christ in this world, and in my heart. I am not surprised, but I am saddened.
Christian brothers and sisters, let’s be renewed! The LORD, the God of heaven, has plans for us, and we let our own desires get in the way! There is so much more to this life than our reputation, our pride, our supposed wisdom.
May God change our hearts into vessels made to serve Him and love Him with all we have!