To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and 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.'
"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.'
"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 18:9-14
Jesus didn’t hate the Pharisees. It would be easy to get that impression. But, Jesus loves all people equally. He loved the Pharisees just as much as He loved His disciples. The disciples were just more open to His teaching.
Tax collectors were equally hated by all people. While paying taxes was painful enough, the tax collectors of the day had a rather inequitable system fit for their own advantage. They ripped everybody off: rich and poor, young and old. They were equal opportunity offenders. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the tax collectors were sinners. They had sinned against everyone by stealing from them. If anyone would burn in hell, it would be tax collectors for sure.
So, why was the tax collector’s pray more acceptable than the Pharisee’s pray? The tax collector acknowledged his need for God. He was a sinner. He needed mercy. It was not an option.
The Pharisees, on the other hand, felt that they had lived their lives so well that they really didn’t need God’s mercy. If everyone lived their lives as well as they did, they wouldn’t need God’s mercy either. The problem is that no one actually lives their lives that well. Mercy is a necessity, not a consolation prize.
Which group would you put yourself in? Are you a miserable sinner and everybody is well aware of it? Or, do you feel that you’ve got your act together spiritually, and you don’t have that much to confess? Or, are you somewhere in between?
Here’s the test: what have you confessed to God recently? How have you offended Him by falling short?
God doesn’t want us to live without His mercy. Our goal is not to become self-sufficient, that only leads to self-righteousness and pride. You and I are no better than anyone else. Acknowledging that our survival is entirely dependent on God’s grace is the first step toward humility. You and I are capable of every sin that we’ve looked down our noses upon. It’s by God’s mercy that we can become who He created us to be.
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