“(Jesus) also told this parable to those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.“Luke 18:9)
With a first read or view of this parable we can see the contrast between the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector quite clearly.
The Pharisee’s arrogance keeps him from truly needing God. In his own self-righteousness he proclaims his great discipline: he is not like the dishonest thieves, rogues, adulterers or tax collectors. He fasts twice a week. He is generous; giving away a tenth of his income (Luke 18:. Yet his problem (and blindness) is his arrogance. Everything is about him. He probably stood to pray in the Temple so his prayer (which is really a statement of his self-aggrandizement than anything about God) could be seen and heard by others. He probably hoped for their praise and admiration.
We also see this Tax-Collector’s pleading for God’s mercy. By his very profession he would have been seen as a collaborator with the empire in the systems of oppression. To make a living he would have taken more than what was required of him and would have been seen as dishonest and untrustworthy. According to most people he is a scum sucking loser. Yet in his plea, “Have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13) we see a humility that places not trust in himself, but rather places his past, present and future in God’s hands alone.
It is easy to condemn the Pharisee and praise the Tax-Collector.
But take a closer look this story and at yourself.
Too often we act exactly as the Pharisee even when we think of ourselves as the Tax-Collector. We try to do the right things, follow the rules, give our fair share and look down our noses in disgust that don’t keep up. We become smug in our own piety. We admire those who appear to have their lives on track, or don’t need others because of their personal success. We look down on those who struggle, are stuck in systems beyond their control, or are so arrogant they don’t seem to play by the rules the rest of us need to follow. We dismiss people we think do not belong, and we exclude ourselves because we do not think we are worthy of God’s love or the companionship of other people.
Who are you in this parable?
Look closer at what Jesus is trying to teach us.
1. We are never outside of God’s love, mercy and grace. No matter how much of a scum sucking loser people think you are or you may believe you are – God loves you. Return to the One who loves you and seeks to make you whole.
2. No matter how much you think you’ve got your life together or others envy you because they think you do; your life is still not all about you. We are all sinful, broken people who project our confidence (or more likely we try to compensate for our lack of it). Drop the pride, and return to the One who gives you everything. Learn gratitude and generosity.
3. See people as those made in God’s image. Everyone has value and has important and unique things to share and teach. And every single one of us struggles. It is very easy to judge either the Pharisee or the Tax-Collector depending on our perspective. Get out of yourself. Learn empathy and compassion. Listen. Help. Get to know your neighbor.
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