I remember the day when I realized I was like the “bad guy” in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
Let’s look at the parable and see how I am like the Pharisee. Maybe, you can identify with the parable, too.
Jesus told this parable on his journey to Jerusalem. It was aimed at his close followers and the religious authorities.
He told the parable to confront both groups with two issues.
— Luke 18.9 – He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.
(1) The first issue was a false reliance on human righteousness, which was achieved separate from the grace and mercy of God.
Jesus would never accept the idea of a “self-made” man or woman. One of my favorite expressions that we are “one beggar telling another beggar where the bread is” describes the need of every human for God’s grace.
(2) Contempt for others stems from a trust in our own righteousness.
Paul insightfully pointed out, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” (1 Corinthians 4.7).
If we believe that our right standing with God is a product of human effort, the next step is to hold others in contempt.
To view someone with contempt, means that we see them as outsiders who lack value. They become the “zeroes” on our scale of appreciation.
Jesus used the parable to convince his close followers and the religious authorities of another way of seeing themselves and other people.
The Pharisee in the Temple
— Luke 18.10-12 – “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
“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.
“‘I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’”
I am convicted that I often think, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people.”
I don’t think I have ever prayed these exact words, but my inner judgmental thoughts reveal my culpability.
Paul’s words apply to me just as much as when he wrote to the Corinthians, “What do you have that you did not receive?”
If everything I have is a gift from God, how can I see another person as not worthy of the same grace and worth?
My failure to allow the message of the Sermon on the Mount to affect my attitudes and actions puts me in the same class as the Pharisee in the parable.
— Matthew 7.3-5 – “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?
“Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?
“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”
I have jokingly said, “I am a great speck inspector, but I have trouble finding the log in my own eye.”
I’m not so sure the Lord laughs at my self-deprecating humor. I believe he is looking for a change in behavior, rather than jokes.
Here is a partial list of people who receive the benefit of my speck inspection.
— Fellow clergy
— People who write things on Facebook that counter my opinions
— Drivers on the Interstate
— People who make bad choices
What is interesting about my list is that I expect others to live up to my standards, but want them to show me kindness when I am in the wrong.
I don’t think I have ever prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people,” but I doubt if a day has gone past without my thinking like that.
The Tax Collector in the Temple
Like the Pharisee, the tax collector stood by himself. He knew he was an outsider, whose only claim on God was to ask for mercy.
— Luke 18.13 – “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!’”
Rudy Ross and I frequently use the expression, “It’s praying time,” to describe when a “red flag” is waived in our minds calling us to change our thinking.
Every time we begin to think “I thank you God that I am not like this person or that,” I need to see the “red flag” before my mind.
I need to talk to God about how much I need his mercy. I need to confess that everything I have has been a gift of his grace. I need to turn my contempt for someone into a prayer of blessing.
Jesus concluded the parable with an evaluation of the two men.
— Luke 18.14 – “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.”
Joel Green in his commentary on Luke points out the attitude and behavior of the religious authority.
(1) He never thanked God for his transforming grace. Instead, he used thanksgiving as a means to parade his righteousness before God.
Once again, Paul’s counsel should be recalled. “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” (1 Corinthians 4.7).
(2) The Pharisee never asked God for mercy.
If he had asked for mercy, he may have joined the tax collector and left the temple justified.
The model attitude and behavior were exemplified by the ultimate outsider, the tax collector. His humility allowed Jesus to lift him up as an example for us all to follow.
Rudy Ross and I talk about this parable on YouTube today. It can be found on the Bob Spradling YouTube channel.
Please email your prayer request to email@example.com or private message me on Facebook. The Maywood prayer team will pray for you.