9 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 NIV
Now Humility in our culture is a cherished virtue. We like the person who somehow maintains a humble shyness. So … We like Jesus’ ending to his parable. BUT we do a disservice to Jesus and this parable if we keep it on this surface level.
This Pharisee was a self-made man, but why in the world did he make himself that way?
The answer is that he made himself that way because he believed that
fasting and tithing
and not being like those other people left him impressive to God.
And that’s what had to make this story so amazing when it was first told. The guy popping his buttons was by every definition in his culture a good man. He was exactly who he claimed to be.
And the tax collector?
He was exactly who he said he was, too — a dirty rotten scoundrel, a collaborator, a crook, an IRS scandal in the flesh, an unclean sinner.
Yet Mr. Pharisee of the Year turns out to be the bad guy, and the terrible sinner turns out to be the good guy. What an incredible reversal it was for Jesus’ listeners!
Jesus told this parable to “some of them who trusted in themselves” (v. 9). In other words, the issue here is not just pride vs. humility but how we expect to be right with God. Jesus comments that only one of these two went home “justified” (v. 14).
So what if Jesus is doing theology here?
There’s a thought.
What if the parable has something to say about God?
If you want to be justified before God, God will have to do it for you.
Note that the Pharisee’s prayer never asks God for anything, certainly not to make him just. The tax collector, though, needs God for everything. He falls on God’s mercy like a dying man, like the dead man he is.
That’s what Jesus is saying. We need God if we want to be right with God.
And the place where that begins is where we die to our pride and beg for mercy.
Truth is, these two men are dead men standing, one dead in his own self- righteousness, and he doesn’t know it, the other dead in his sin, and he knows it, and he pleads for mercy.
Jesus reminds us that we are not justified by the hours we put in at church, the good deeds we do, the church we attend, or the number of Bibles we own.
We’re right with God because God has made us right in Jesus Christ.
Thank God, for the gift of Justification given through Jesus Christ.
Now that’s a story worth telling over and over …