”To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 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. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 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 all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18.9-14
“O Lord it’s hard to be humble…when you’re perfect in every way!” as the famous country song by Mac Davis says. Humility is something with which many of us struggle. Sometimes we chose to humble ourselves before the Lord (James 4.10), other times God humbles those who are proud (James 4.6).
In this passage Jesus is telling a parable about two men who went up to the temple to pray. Like when we go “up” to Jerusalem, we always go “up” to holy places, if not physically then with the attitude of our hearts as we approach God.
One of the men was a Pharisee and stood before God saying, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people — robbers, evildoers, adulterers or even like this tax collector.” He spoke about how he fasted two times a week and would give a tenth of all his income. He was very proud of himself to say the least!
But the other man was a tax collector and he would not even raise his eyes to “look up to heaven.” He “beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me a sinner.” This man was humble, he was lowly, he was aware of his sin and seeking total repentance.
What’s the difference between the two men? Was the one who appeared holy truly the sinner, and the one named a sinner (tax collector was an ugly term) actually holy? How did the pride of the Pharisee get in the way of his redemption? And is God more concerned with the attitude of the heart than he is the actions of the body?
The answers to these questions are obvious and they are convicting. Sometimes, when we think we are holy, righteous and living sanctified before the Lord, we are in truth just a poor wretched sinner as the worst of the worst. It’s only by God’s definitive action in our lives that we can be saved and made holy. We respond in faith but his love perceives our hearts as either humble or proud. A humble heart is worthy of acceptance and repentance but a proud heart exposes the sin deep within.
The prayer of the tax collector was simple, “God have mercy upon me a sinner.” He spoke from his very soul – an act of confession. The Pharisee spoke boldly in God’s presence stating what he had done to make himself holy. I dare say Jesus put more stock in the confession of the tax collector than the Pharisee. As Jesus said, “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.”
Where is your heart settled today? Are you in a state of spiritual confidence that could lead you to be overly proud? Or, are you assuming a humble posture before the Creator God crying out, “God, have mercy upon me a sinner,”? Let’s confess our sins before the Lord. Turn to him in prayer and humble ourselves so we too might be lifted up.
”O Lord God, you are good. Thank you for saving me. Thank you for the redemption of your name and the power of the Cross. I know that I am but a sinner, saved by your grace. Making sense of this world, with all its ups and downs, is nothing short of frustrating. But you are God and you are good. Thank you God for your power and presence in our lives. Come now, Holy Spirit, fill me with the truth of your love. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen