Luke 18:9-14

This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on October 23rd, 2016.

The head of the Pharisee
The head of the Pharisee

In this parable, we see that Jesus is teaching about trust and humility.  The contrast that is set up is between a Pharisee, who we can assume is among the crowd who “were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else” and the tax collector who “would not even look up to heaven, but beat his bread and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”  What sticks out is that we have one character who the crowds may look to for spiritual direction when it comes to how we are to approach God in prayer, while the other is a character who is likely not regarded as a “great person” among the crowd but approaches God with a humble and honest heart.  Right away, we see areas for fruitful reflection on the differences in these two characters and the heart that Jesus is interested in for people that desire to be in fellowship with God.

It’s the Pharisee who has followed the rules and done everything that was asked of him.  He has established himself as an honest man and knows that society likely sees him as a good person.  Tax collectors, on the other hand, may likely be lumped into the category that the Pharisee says he is not – robber, evildoer.  He’s probably seen as a leech and traitor for working with Rome at the time and being a burden on the people who are barely scraping by to feed their families.  So with this parable, what do we learn about what God finds commendable in a person’s actions?  What sort of qualities might the world acclaim that establishes a person as “good” in the eyes of society?

I find it interesting that the faith and testimony we see from the Pharisee is sometimes what we teach or instruct people in modern times to be.  When we teach a Sunday school lesson, we want people to go out and live a life where they are able to stand up and say, “I have made decisions that make me different from other men who live in scandalous ways.  I have accepted faith, and therefore I am better off than someone who has not.”  We want our kids to grow up to be like this.  We want our youth to take on attributes that do not highlight doing wrong but ones that promote goodness.  We want our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to be praiseworthy people in the eyes of society.  But what is different here is that Jesus paints these people as ones that are confident of their own righteousness and look down on everybody else who is not like them.  I can picture a Christian in church lifting their hands in praise and peeking over at the sinner next to them down on their knees and quietly whispering to themselves, “That’s right.  Get down on your knees and ask for God’s forgiveness because I have seen what you do between Sundays and on the floor pleading with God is exactly where you belong.”

The righteousness that the Pharisee displays is a badge of honor.  He has probably even spent numerous years trying to perfect his life so that he would be able to follow all the rules and regulations set forth by the church.  He has volunteered at church dinners.  He has been a sponsor for youth events.  He has served on finance committees.  He has made quite a name for himself, of which he is quite proud.  “Thank you, God!  If it wasn’t for you, I might not be as great as I am!”  When we serve God, when we follow the teachings of Jesus – what type of recognition do we expect because of our faith displayed in the circles that we live?

Like many stories told by Jesus, the hero is the unexpected character.  The tax collector knows the type of man that he is in the eyes of society.  He wakes up, looks in the mirror and sees the face of a man who takes money from people who may not have much of it, to begin with, and gives it to people who likely have more than they need.  This character does not see himself as great but sees God as the one who is great.  He seeks mercy and forgiveness rather than commendation, favor, and recognition.  Jesus establishes this man as the one who has “got it right” by emphasizing that there is nothing a person can do that will impress God enough for Him to bestow His mercy, grace, and forgiveness

The battle between pride and humility is waged in this parable.  Who can identify with the type of righteousness that the Pharisee has achieved?  Who can say that they do all the things that he does when it comes to serving the Lord?  What hope does the Pharisee give to the multitudes of people that have no chance of living a life similar to him?  If that is the rubric that the Pharisee is displaying to his circles of influence as the means to achieve the favor of the Lord, what hope is there for someone such as a tax collector?  But we can all identify with the tax collector, can’t we?  When we walk into church on Sunday morning or Wednesday night, we are well aware of the sins that we have committed.  What hope do we have?  When we approach the throne of God on bended knee, speak honestly about our situation, and humbly ask for the mercy, forgiveness, love and compassion of the Lord, we receive it.  Through all of Jesus’ parables in Luke, we see an emphasis on small displays of honest and trusting faith rather than grand gestures of self-admiration.  Do we, as leaders in the church, insist that people do more so that they will prove their faith and “tier 1” status as a Christian, or do we encourage people to live honestly in front of each other and God so that we all may see the power of the compassion and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ?




resized_screenshot_20161005-154814Daniel Venzin
Minister to Students and Recreation
First Baptist Church, Lufkin, TX




Tags: righteousness, pride, humility, honesty

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