Sunday March 8, 2009 | Greg Boyd
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."
When we hear sermons, often we apply them to someone else. It is always easier to see and try to fix other people’s faults than it is our own. It is common to do this when we read Bible stories. One of the functions of Jesus’ parables is to free us from this self-serving favoritism and force us to look in the mirror.
When we hear sermons, we often apply them to someone else. It is always easier to see and try to fix other people’s faults than it is your own. It is common to do this when we read Bible stories. One of the functions of Jesus’ parables is to free us from this self-serving favoritism and force us to look in the mirror.
This parable is directed against those who are confident in their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else. Upon reading this parable, we might imagine a caricature of a stuffy Pharisee and immediately claim “I’m not like THAT…”
Ironically, in process of doing this, we are engaging in the very thing this parable is directed against. We are reinforcing our confidence in our own humble righteousness over and against stuffy judgmental Pharisees.
But the Pharisee was probably like many of us, simply confident he was righteous, to the point where he could look down on others. He was sincere when he thanked God he was not like these people. Instead of engaging in evil activity, this man went to the temple (probably daily), fasted twice a week and tithed. He had the right theology and the right behavior. So, of course he was confident he wasn’t like these other people.
The most important person the Pharisee contrasts with is the tax collector since the other character in the parable is a tax collector and probably the most villainous sinner he mentions. In Jewish world, tax collectors were generally viewed as the WORST of the WORST. They were Jews who sided with the Romans and cheated their own people out of money.
It would be natural for a Pharisee to think this way about a tax collector and feel pretty confident about his own righteousness.
Of course this attitude continues today as society as a whole ranks people according to virtues and vices. We reward and punish people according to virtues and vices. But Kingdom people are forbidden to rank people. We are called to avoid viewing some as great and some as despicable. Instead, along with the apostle Paul, we’re to confess that we are the worst of sinners. Following Jesus’ teaching we’re to confess that our sin, whatever it might be, is a tree trunk sticking out of our eyes, and other people’s sins, whatever they might be, are little dust particles.
You may by normal social standards be relatively good… better than most others…you go to church, etc. That doesn’t matter to Jesus because he has abolished the comparison and evaluation game. The way we view ourselves and others has nothing to do with the social virtue-vice evaluation scale. It has everything to do with Jesus. The only way to receive God’s extravagant grace is to embrace a humility that shocks the Pharisees.