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!?