April 23: The Pharisees and the Tax Collector

Read Luke 18:9-14

“At least I . . .”

According to Jesus, many statements beginning with those three words are dangerous. What often follows is some kind of comparative, perhaps prideful self justification. Through that statement, we point to our own merits while implying the deficiencies of another.

That is what the Pharisee in Christ’s story was doing. While both he and the tax collector stood in the temple praying, his “at least I . . .” attitude was revealed. In his mind, he was better than others. As he prayed, he tried to remind God of all the things he was not. In his mind, these were the things that merited God’s special favor and attention.

But pride can blind us to reality. Self righteousness causes us to elevate ourselves and treat others with contempt. Self justification encourages us to pray, “God, you are lucky to have me!” instead of “God, I desperately need you!”

The tax collector uttered the essence of that latter prayer in Christ’s story. Had he been guilty of some things? To be sure . . . perhaps even some of the things the Pharisee had named off. But he humbly and honestly acknowledged his true condition before God as a sinner. And he called out to God in brokenness for the mercy that only God could give.

Jesus makes it clear that it was the tax collector who walked away from that temple experience justified. It is the one who demonstrates humility rather than pride. It is the one who doesn’t exalt self. It is the one who identifies his issues. It is the one who asks God for forgiveness. It is the one who rejoices when others do the same.

So which person are you? Are you the Pharisee or the tax collector? Are you one who looks down at others or are you one who looks down when you consider your own sin? And are you one who looks up to God as your only source of righteousness?

sbk

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