Most Bible students are familiar with Jesus’ famous parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector who went up to the temple to pray (Luke 18:9-13). We have read it and heard it preached many times. Jesus gave the parable to those who “trusted in themselves” and “treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). The Pharisee prayed in a showy manner. He exalted himself listing his righteous and good deeds. He thanked God he was not like the sinful tax collector. It was a prayer of comparison! He was far superior to the tax collector. He did all these great deeds and didn’t do all those sinful things.
In stark contrast the tax collector was convicted and broken-hearted. He was so humiliated before God he refused to lift his eyes upward and beat his breasts as a sign of grief. He pleaded for the mercy of God because he was a sinner.
Familiar story; right? You have heard it before and know the main thrust is for sinners to come to God humbly and surrendering their pride in open sorrow and conviction. So it isn’t really about you? Well, let me ask you which person in the parable are you more like? Are you more like the tax collector who has a long history of extortion, greed, and selfishness? Or are you more like the Pharisee? Remember the Pharisees were the religious elite of the day. They took the law of God seriously, so serious in fact they made up a whole bunch of rules to ensure they didn’t even come close to breaking any of God’s rules. They went to “church” every time the doors were opened. They fasted regularly. They paid their tithes. They debated and discussed the Scriptures. Hummm . . . Which one are you more like? I am just going to guess here and say if you have stayed with a preacher this long reading an article about the Bible, then you are probably closer to the Pharisee.
I don’t mean to offend you, but help you realize that this parable is to you! Most Christians are more similar to the Pharisee than the tax collector. What this means is we have to heed Jesus’ parable! We must be aware of the temptation to compare ourselves with others who are living sinful lives. We can easily uplift ourselves in prayer and view others with contempt. We may even act to God like we deserve this request we are making in prayer. We may get angry when God doesn’t answer like we feel he should. After all, doesn’t God know who we are!
Let’s hear Jesus’ closing line with an understanding that it is given to help us avoid this sin, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:13). There should never be a place for pride or contempt of others in our prayers!