God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
OK, so we've been talking about parables. I planned to share my favorite, but I was reminded of this one while in the car yesterday listening to a recent message from my church. It's another good one. Totally different from my favorite, but a great lesson packed into a short tale.
To set the scene first we must realize tax collectors in Jesus' day weren't just people we avoided because they took our required taxes for the upkeep of our city, state and nation. Granted I don't much like the Internal Revenue Service or North Carolina Department of Revenue's constant taking, taking, taking only for politicians to spend unwisely and recklessly, but I don't despise them as evil rotten sinners. Likely I'd not recognize a tax agent in the same restaurant or store with me.
However back in Jesus' day, a tax collector was a Jewish guy who had collaborated with the occupying government to collect taxes often at a much higher rate than the Romans required. The tax collector would pay Rome what was due it and take the rest for himself. So he not only worked for the despised occupiers, but he stole from his own people! (Not good.) Anyone reading through the Gospels would get the impression that a tax collector was hated. Often you see "tax collectors and sinners" coupled together, as in "why does your teacher [Jesus] eat with tax collectors and sinners." Which being translated likely meant, "How could a rabbi eat with such filthy disgusting sinful pigs?" And if you are a good Muslim you likely know better than I how Jews felt about pigs.
So in our terms think about those you would consider to this degree -- maybe a Palestinian who collected taxes for the Zionists in return for favors from them, perhaps a child molester, a rapist ... whatever seems bad to you. Got someone or some type of person in mind? Great. Now when you read "tax collector" below substitute that person or type of person.
Secondly, recall Pharisees were merely the typical religious type of the day. They were not bad guys - indeed, they kept the Law of Moses and then some! We'd likely recognize them as our respected priests, imams, rabbis and pastors today. Maybe even the spiritual people at your church or mosque. The ones you look up to as "really godly" or maybe scoff for being a bit too goody-goody.
Keep those in mind as you read this short parable from Luke 18.
Notice to whom this parable was given...
9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:
The proud self-righteous crowd. OK, now the parable.
10"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee [religious, law-keeping guy] and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' [Lord, see how good I am? I keep your law by fasting and giving.]
13"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.'
14"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
This begs the question -- why?
The Pharisee was a good guy. He kept God's law. He gave to the poor. None of us would look at him and doubt his piety. Seemingly, he did everything right!
Why would the tax collector be the one justified [made right with God] simply because of his attitude and prayer here? Did he do good works? Didn't he take from the people? Not only was he not doing good, he was doing bad! A traitor and thief!
What do you think the point of Jesus' parable was? Oh yeah, something about humility and exalting ourselves. What does humility mean?
Perhaps it just means we realize we are needy folks. We may have a lot of stuff -- books, clothes, gadgets, food, entertainment, money. But, in reality, we are still needy. Of what? God's grace. God's mercy. God's goodness.
The Pharisee seemed as if he were counting on his right living. "OK, God, I've kept all your rules so pour out your blessings on me." In essence, Mr. Pharisee earned God's favor.
But is this how God works? Can we earn His love, His rewards, His mercy? Is there enough we can do for God to deserve His gifts?
Why did the sinner - rather than the righteous man - leave the temple made "right" before God?
Does this seem a bit unfair to you?
If God were to stand before you now and say, "why should I allow you into my heaven?" how would you answer Him?
Would you recount all the good deeds you had done or would you humbly acknowledge your sinfulness and the need for His mercy? Or would you do a little bit of both? Do share!