The writers of the New Testament Gospels don’t often give us an introduction to Jesus’ parables, but Luke gives one that grabs my attention and hopefully yours as well. In introducing what is called The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector Luke tells us to whom it is addressed: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable” (Luke 18:9). I’m somewhat convicted by the description of those to whom Jesus is speaking. When it comes to being confident of one’s own righteousness and therefore looking down on everyone else, perhaps we should hear the warning “Don’t do this!”
In the parable that follows this introduction Jesus gives examples of spiritual pride and spiritual humility represented by a Pharisee and a tax collector. In his prayer the Pharisee thanks God that he is not like other people and gives God a couple of examples of his righteous living. The tax collector, on the other hand, humbly asks for God’s mercy because he knows he is a sinner.
Spiritual pride is evidenced by presumption before God, a harsh fault-finding spirit towards others—especially those deemed less spiritual, and a desire to be noticed. It reminds me of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount when He talked about focusing on the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye while ignoring the plank in your own (Matthew 7:1-5).
Spiritual poverty is the opposite; it is not presumptuous before God, does not look down on others picking at their shortcomings, and isn’t jockeying to be seen by others. The “sinful woman” who anointed Jesus in Luke 7:24-50 is an example of spiritual poverty. (If you have time grab your Bible and read the account.)
Jesus concludes the parable affirming that the tax collector went home justified before God rather than the self-righteous Pharisee. He then adds an observation in the second part of Luke 18:14 all of us might spend some time contemplating: “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Who does the humbling of those who exalt themselves and the exalting of those who humble themselves?
I hope none of us are confident of our own righteousness and that we do not look down on everyone else. (The two do go together!) As a matter of fact, I would say “Don’t do this!”
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photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/95813831@N00/253707900″>Doron Feldman approves!</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>
I agree, Pastor Bob. Some people take this parable to mean that we shouldn’t pray in public, and are adamantly against such acts like “See You at the Pole” events. I would love to know your thoughts on that aspect of the parable too.
The issue of praying in public is addressed by Jesus in Matthew 6:5 and 6; if we pray in public in order to be seen by others it is wrong.