“[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt…” (Luke 18:9, NRSVue)
The parable that Jesus tells is about two men who went to the temple to pray. One of the guys was a Pharisee. The Pharisees were religious leaders who interpreted God’s commands and held people accountable for faithfulness to the Law. Jesus sparred with the Pharisees because their focus on the Law was more for the sake of the Law than for helping others grow closer to God. Not all Pharisees were like this, but these were the ones with whom Jesus had the most conflict.
The other guy was a tax collector. He was considered a traitor by the Jews because he worked for the Roman Empire collecting exorbitant taxes from his fellow Jews. It was not uncommon for tax collectors to add to a person’s tax bill and keep some of the collection for themselves. Tax collectors were considered the worst of the worst sinners.
Both men enter the temple to pray. The Pharisee stands alone, probably in front of all the other people in the temple, drawing attention to himself by praying loud enough for everyone to hear. Self-righteously, he prays, “Thank God I’m not as bad as all the other sinners here seeking forgiveness. I’m especially grateful I’m not like the tax collector over there. I fast twice a week, and I tithe my income. Oh, what a good boy I am!” Surely no one would be this bold. Remember, Jesus is telling a story, and hyperbole helps make his point!
The tax collector stands on the fringes of the temple. Jesus says he doesn’t even lift his head for the weight of his sins and the shame it brings weighs heavily on him. He beats his chest in sorrow, pleading for God’s mercy because of his sins. Jesus said,
“I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other,
for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
(Luke 18:14, NRSVue)
Jesus’ point is that we all need God’s grace. No one wins when we keep score of who needs it more.
I am grateful that although I am a sinner, God’s grace has saved me. I’ve done nothing to earn my salvation. It’s a gift from God. This awareness causes me to be generous in my giving and my living. I know I can’t out-give God because he’s given so much to me. My giving is not to earn my salvation but to express my gratitude for the marvelous gift of God’s grace. I am also generous in my assessment of the sins of others, trying to be as forgiving toward them as God has been toward me. Sometimes, my judgment hurts me and the one I judge. It’s a lose/lose situation.
Ann and I will pledge to the church this year, as we always do, not because we’re trying to be self-righteous or earn our salvation, but because we are grateful to God for loving us just as we are. I hope you will make a pledge of gratitude, too. See you Sunday!