Scripture: Luke 18:9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Observation: Jesus had great patience with “sinners”, but little patience with those who were self-righteous. Why? The self-righteous ones, like the Pharisee in this story, don’t perceive a need for mercy. They follow the rules and perceive their own effort as sufficient to justify themselves before God – though their hearts are like stone. On the contrary, the tax collector (a despised class of people in Jesus’ day) is well aware of his shortcomings and need for forgiveness. His humility draws the mercy of God, while the Pharisee’s hubris repels God.
Application: Like many new believers, my life was a mess when the Lord took hold of me as a young adult. I remember crying out to the Lord in prayer, laying my many sins before him and being washed clean in Jesus’ grace and mercy. What a relief! Sin is a heavy burden to carry friends, as you well know. But now that I’ve been a committed Christian for more than 20 years, I have to be careful not to become like the Pharisee.
Yesterday I was called to jury duty and assigned to a criminal drug case – a first degree felony. At one point during jury selection, the defense attorney asked how many of us (about 70 prospective jurors) had been adversely effected by drugs or addiction issues – to the point it might compromise our ability to judge his client in an impartial way. Just about every hand went up. It was astonishing! Then the attorney went one by one to hear from persons with their hands up. The stories of how drugs had wrecked lives were heartbreaking. In fact, so many people raised their hands the judge declared a mistrial. There weren’t enough people left to field a 12 person jury.
As I saw those many hands go up, I looked at the defendant who was seated next to his lawyer. And my first instinct was to be angry with him. Look what your drug business does to people! You should be ashamed of yourself! I wanted him to go to jail immediately. But then I came to my senses.
First of all, the man has been convicted of nothing. He may be completely innocent. But more importantly, he is likely one who is struggling mightily in life. He stands accused of a very serious crime and may spend many years in prison if convicted. And the more I thought about it, the more compassion I began to feel for this man. And I began to pray for him. And I asked the Lord to forgive my judging heart. Lord knows all the sins for which I’ve been forgiven.
Prayer: Lord, it’s very easy to succumb to a judgmental spirit. Give us grace to remain humble before you, and help us to cry out as the tax collector in the story, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” Amen.