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.”
Jesus tells this story of two people with unexpected outcomes. First there is the Pharisee who follows all the rules, goes above and beyond the requirements of the law, yet falls out of favor. Why? Because he’s impressed with himself? Maybe. I think the key is his contempt for the tax collector. The Pharisee’s religiosity has made him hard-hearted rather than merciful.
On the other hand you have the uber-sinner the tax collector. These were not good people. They cheated and stole from their own people, betraying them to the Roman overseers. They were understandably despised by fellow Israelites. Yet rather than be filled with pride, he was contrite. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” It is this humility that draws God to the tax collector’s side.
I may be a pastor, but my sins are still many. I wish it weren’t so, but it’s true. I suppose there are times when I might think like the Pharisee. Thank God I’m not like those other people – the ones whose lives are lived in complete rebellion to God! But there remains some rebellion in me nonetheless. And I suppose I’ll never be completely free of that this side of heaven.
Lord, have mercy on me – a sinner. Amen.