By Brooke Holt
“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’” Luke 18:9-14
Appearances can be deceiving. I love a good honey crisp apple! Fall brings many of those into stores, and I am easily drawn into spending too much money on those glorious looking apples. I try to savor them keeping myself to one apple a day. So, each day, I will pull out my apple, wash it, and then slice it into as many pieces as possible. What a delight when that apple tastes as good as it looks, but what a disappointment when that delicious looking apple is mushy on the inside. Though beautiful on the outside, many an apple has not tasted as good as it looked.
Throughout this portion of Luke’s gospel, Jesus has been teaching the crowds through parables. As we get to this section, Jesus becomes quite pointed in his teaching. As the text tells us, “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves” (Luke 18:9). The Pharisees could put on quite an impressive religious show. They prayed eloquently, dressed in fine robes, and disfigured their faces in the marketplaces so that everyone would know that they were fasting. They probably rang bells as they dropped their tithe in the offering plate. These men were very focused on impressing men but not nearly as concerned about impressing God.
Jesus saw right through their facades and exposed their hearts in this parable. One man, a Pharisee, enters the temple to pray. In this prayer, he commends himself for his righteousness, his fasting, and his tithing. He confesses no sin and expresses no gratitude to God. The man was self-righteous and self-consumed as depicted in how many times he used the word “I” in just two sentences (five times).
Meanwhile, there was the detested tax collector who also entered the temple to pray. This tax collector took a completely different posture in his prayer. He didn’t defend his ways, justify himself, or even demand mercy. Instead, he beat his breast and begged the Lord for mercy.
The Pharisee had the appearance of being a devout follower of the Lord, but his insides were unrighteous. The despised tax collector may have had a messy outside, but he is the one who demonstrated true faith. One man trusted in himself while the other entrusted himself to the Lord. One man went away justified, and it was not the man who thought he did.
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).
Which of these men best describes your posture in prayer? Are you righteous in your eyes or the eyes of God? May you come humbly before the throne of grace today. We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Let's face it, the Christian life is hard. Relationships take work. Christians forget. Sometimes it is tempting to go back to the days when God was not the center of our lives - to backslide. We are all faced with tremendous pressures to drift away from intimacy with Jesus and the community of the Church. However, the Lord invites us to pay attention, to move forward, to draw near, and to live lives of worship. Draw Near: Hebrews on Christian Worship is a small group Bible study on the Book of Hebrews intended to lead participants into a deeper intimacy with the living God in the context of New Testament worship. Draw nearer to God in authentic worship today!
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