March 3, 2013 – Thank God I’m Not Like Other People
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.” Luke 18:9-14
Jesus, addressing a crowd, told a parable about being justified before God. He used a church setting and illustrates the message by contrasting a religious figure and an embezzling tax collector.
In the story the religious man offers a prideful oration proclaiming his outstanding moral conduct and innocence of the world’s vices. He esteems his faithful religious service and financial contributions as valuable enough to elevate his religious position over that of others. His character represents an attitude of entitlement and the meriting (earning) of God’s blessing due to his outward actions.
Next to him, a man has fallen to his knees revealing his broken, humbled heart. He knows his guilt and does not deny his life of sin. He recognizes God is righteous and requires payment for his errors. He stands isolated in the distance, feeling unworthy of being included in the services. He confesses his weakness, bears his weight alone, and begs for mercy.
The story is a moment of instruction in which God reveals His tender heart toward broken, humbled sinners. We are shown a divine perspective revealing the mercy and compassion of God toward those who call out for His forgiveness. Many people miss the point of Jesus’ teaching and stay in the self-righteous attitude their actions have produced.
If we live with the pride of the religious man firmly implanted in our hearts, we will miss the mercy of God. If we compare anything good we have done to what Christ has done, we will ultimately find ourselves, like the tax collector, broken and ashamed.
We will never attain perfection. We will always be struggling sinners desperate for and hopeless without the mercy of God. Do you want to experience the mercy or the judgment of God?
I hope your prayer is God, have mercy on me, a sinner, as you bow your head to heaven and beat your breast.