Stop and read the story for a second… it might be about you.
Then Jesus told this story to some who had great self-confidence and scorned
everyone else: 10“Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the
other was a dishonest tax collector. 11The proud Pharisee stood by
himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like
everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat,
I don’t sin, I don’t commit adultery, 12I fast twice a week, and I
give you a tenth of my income.’
13“But the tax collector stood
at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead,
he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a
sinner.’ 14I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home
justified before God. For the proud will be humbled, but the humble will be
It’s so easy to disregard the Pharisee as the “bad guy.” If we think of him as an evil man then we are safe from being related to him.
I read scripture and often find places where Jesus seems to be talking to one group but if you stop to think about it the message is for a whole other group that happens to be listening.
Here we have a Pharisee. His whole life has been about being the best person they know how to be and he’s done this very rigorously. He’s followed every rule he’s done all he can. By his greatest effort he’s attempting to find God and His salvation. There happens to be a tax collector… a worst of the worst sinner. This tax collector has seen his folly and is begging God, beating his chest in the deepest emotion. He begs for forgiveness as the Tax collector says I’m so glad I’m not like that guy.
Who is the Pharisee?
Jesus seems to be talking about this evil, evil man. Let’s stop and think about it, though. Is he so bad? The Pharisee is doing all the right stuff, is it so wrong for him to notice that he’s closer to being right than the screwed up Tax collector?
I often wonder if I’m “saved.” I sit and ponder how I’m doing spiritually and wonder if I’m where God wants me to be. Because I need to know I will reason with myself, I’ll rationalize. The way I’ll usually rationalize is “well I’m better off than that guy… if he’s ‘saved’ I must be.” I know lots of Christians who, I think, just don’t get it but their “saved” anyway. I “get it” so I’m ok, right? Do I get any comfort this way? Nope… unless I choose ignorance I get nowhere by comparing myself with others. My best comfort (and I say best because I’m rarely comfortable) comes from bringing the perspective back to being between me and God.
Maybe Jesus story in Luke 18 is about me. I’m really doing my best but I’ve got to point out that I’m closer than someone else to being “right.” When I start looking for other people’s flaws, and I’m really good at finding them because of so much practice, I’m just like the Pharisee. The Pharisee is really not a bad guy he’s just missed to point. He forgot that God loves the Tax collector too.
Maybe Jesus story is bout me. Maybe I’m the tax collector and YOU are the Pharisee. Maybe you’re reading this post saying “wow, Wes doesn’t know if he’s saved? He’s got problems” (yes you’re right, I do have problems).
What is Jesus pointing out about the Pharisee? His tithing and fasting? No! It was the Pharisee’s arrogance. Jesus question was ‘does a guy who compares himself to others come away justified?’ We read this sometimes ‘does a guy who tithes and fasts come away justified?’ that’s irrelevant. Tithing and fasting doesn’t make or break justification. It’s what’s in the heart that matters.
The Pharisee in our culture might sound something like this: “I read my Bible every day, I give money to my church and any Church or organization that’s really helping people, I pray every day, I really care about people, I journal, I blog about Jesus, I go to church three times a week, I see God in movies, I’m always thinking about Jesus. Thank God I’m not like my friends who just talk about being Christians but don’t live it out.” Sound’s a lot like me to me. Does it sound like you?
Doing things is not the problem… if you compare yourself to others you may end up being right. Is that what matters? Stop looking at everyone around you to feel comfortable about yourself… settle for being uncomfortable. I’ll admit… sometimes I have to convince myself that there’s a chance that I’m wrong. Who’s the Pharisee Now!?
This is a really good point-- a great reminder. What if er took it even farther and said not only I am justified freely from the comparison with others but also I am totally okay with God ONLY because of my honesty about my spiritual bankruptcy. Even if we do all the right things and even then don't compare ourselves to others, this isn't what makes us whole or in harmony with God. I think the main thing is simply turning our hearts to God-- this is what He really desires.
Great reminder for us all. We are all so quick to judge and pass the baton of blame off to the next person. We need to remember why we are doing what we are doing!
I experienced a significant revelation through this. I always automatically thought of myself as the man who admits he was a sinner. After contemplating this parable, you're right, I realized that although I can often identify with that role, I am more often the Pharisee. I measure my "walk to Godliness" by my distance from those who have not "followed the rules" as well as I have. It will be a tough discipline to refrain from judging other believers and their position on the road, as I determine it to be. Their place versus mine is none of my business. Now let's see if I can apply it to my daily life! Thank you Wes!
Its a struggle in my life to keep from having a pharisee like attitude toward a pharisee like person.
Oi vay, I beat my breast and comes forth the hollow sound of my empty chest. A heartless man robed for prayer. Now which one am I? The tax man, as the Beatles would say or the full on the hill, enclosed in the cloud up there.
It would seem the both and aspect can fill in some of our doubt. Some times I am a con living by my wits glad that I have protection if I am found out. (eternal security) at other times the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of my heart and allows my to see another part of myself from His eyes. (repent continually) if we follow the songs of David we understand that he lamented and rejoiced repented and cried out for vengeance and deliverance from injustice. Where do we stand in our relationship with the Creator? Some days I feel like a nut sometimes I don’t to use an old candy commercial.
I think it my even be true to say one can lead into the other as we linger before the Savior.
It is uncomfortable being uncomfortable. I think that we all want to get into our comfy chair and settle there. I told my husband a bit ago that I thought that on Sunday I would share a bit about PRIDE. I mentioned that whatever we say or do that (whether fear or whatever) puts us in a postition of being about "me" is PRIDE--the root of all sin being pride. You have given much to think on.
Great post Wes!! It actually reminded me of another area in Luke 7:36-50. The sinful woman crying at Jesus' feet. One my friends shared it with me weeks ago. Not only do we need to remember why we are doing what we are doing - but its the attitude of our hearts and our faith. I've been thinking alot about the sinful woman and what Jesus thought of her and his reaction to her and the Pharisee. I really liked your post - made me think more on the topic.
there is a big difference between being saved and being where and who God wants you to be. I love what Kris said about having a pharisee attitude toward a pharisee type person.
I like pastor art's beatle reference, but I think he meant the "fool" on the hill...
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