Does This Sinner Look Familiar?

In the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells about a Pharisee and a tax collector who both went to the temple to pray.  The Pharisee stood up when he prayed, and he prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

However, the tax collector kept at a distance and wouldn’t even look up to heaven.  Instead, he beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Christ said that it was the tax collector, not the Pharisee, who went home justified before God.  “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

This Pharisee was very selfish in his prayers.  Unfortunately, I can identify with him, because I’ve been guilty of this same thing. I have prayed for what I needed, or wanted; forgetting those who are in greater need than myself; all who suffering from terrible diseases; all who have just lost a loved one; and, all who can’t afford to feed their children.  Christianity tells us to be selfless, more concerned about others than ourselves.  Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”  Why should we consider others to be better than ourselves?  Because they are.

This audacious Pharisee actually thanked God that he wasn’t like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers, and tax collectors?  I believe that we do this routinely ourselves.  When we read about robbers and murderers and their terrible deeds, we somehow feel like we’re better than those people  However, we must understand that we have sinned just like those people, and all sin has “missed the mark.”  Our filthy rags are no better than anyone else’s filthy rags.  We must be more compassionate and try to understand the situation for the millions of people who have been sentenced to prison.  Many will die there because of a single brief moment of uncontrolled rage.  They know that they were wrong, and they’re sorry for what they did.  Yet, they are guilty, and they will never again experience freedom in this life.  They wake up behind locked doors, hoping for a letter or a visit from someone they can call a friend.

This Pharisee was also quite legalistic, thinking that he had earned something from God by fasting and tithing.  We can see this every day too.  People go to church on Sunday morning to worship a God they hardly know, and then they live like pagans for the rest of the week.  These church-goers are practicing religion, not Christianity.  They’re performing certain deeds in order to earn favor from God.  Romans 6:14 says that we are not under law, but under grace.

We must be less like the Pharisee, and more like the tax collector.  He knew his sins, and they brought him shame when he approached God.  We simply must confess our sins to God (1 John 1:9), and call upon Him to have mercy upon us.

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