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 18:9-4 ESV
In this passage, Luke is recalling a parable that Jesus taught in which he tells a story about a Pharisee and a tax collector. During this time, a Pharisee was a strict, self-righteous religious person. The Pharisees believed they had it all together and were above others because they lived what they believe was the "right" way. Tax collectors, on the other hand, weren't viewed very highly in society. They were cheaters and traitors. People hated tax collectors. Both the Pharisee and the tax collector were in the wrong, but there is a stark contrast in how they communicate with God in the passage. The Pharisee prays a self-serving prayer and thanks God that he is above and better than the people around him. The tax collector asks God for mercy and forgiveness and admits that he is a sinner. What Jesus has to say about the two prayers makes it clear about which prayer he prefers. He says that the one who humbles himself (the tax collector) with be exalted and the one who exalts himself (the Pharisee) will be humbled. God blesses the tax collector, not the Pharisee.
The tax collector was exalted and justified not because of anything he did. Contrary to what the Pharisee proclaimed, there was actually no amount of fasting or tithing that could "please" God enough. God just saw the humble and repentant position of the tax collector's heart and sent him to his house justified. That's right, God called the hated by society, self-proclaimed sinner, tax collector justified!
It’s the same with us. There is no amount of good works, rule following, or bible reading that can make God approve or choose us any more than he already does. He just wants our hearts to be on him. He wants our honest selves – no matter how confused or messed up we think we are.
God, forgive me for the ways I have made following you about rule following pr performing. Help me to position my heart and focus my eyes on you today. Thank you that you see me and you love me, no matter where I’ve been, what I’ve done, or where I am now. Amen.
- Sarah T.