I have a love-hate respond to this wonderful story in the Book of Luke in the New Testament. Partly because Jesus told the story to the deserved self-righteous Pharisees and partly because it is about me, another self-righteous guy. The story was about two men. One man was a Pharisee, one of the respectful religious leaders of the day. The other one was a tax collector, a profession that was typically despised by the Jews and was considered to be sell-out to the Roman occupiers. Again, Jesus was telling this story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves (mostly the religious leaders of the day) over their moral performance and who looked down at the common people:
“Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’
Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’
Jesus commended: ‘This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself’” (Luke 18:9-14, The Message).
Yeah, I love-hate this story. Here we have two different men. One, the Pharisee, is careful to keep up appearances and do everything right. He takes pride in his moral performance and his extravagant religious activities. If he have Facebook account today I think he would posts many religious pictures, Christian blogs links and spiritual quotes (hmmm… just like me). He might wear sparkling Christian t-shirt, read KJV Bible only and gossiping or pointing fingers at everyone’s, anyone’s faults. In his attitudes, thoughts, actions and words, he looks down on others.
The tax collector, on the other hand, cries out and pleads for God’s mercy and is unashamed to be transparent to admit that he has failed God. Rightly, he confesses his faults, acknowledging that he is not worthy to lift up his face to God and calling himself “a sinner.” His heart attitude is real humility. Wow! How far am I from this kind of humility prayer! Therefore, Jesus said, “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (NIV).
I learned (over and over again) that God is not impress by my appearances or even my many ministries. God is looking at the heart. Our humility, true humility in the presence of God is what Jesus commend to us. Humility, not a habit of self-righteous and pointing out the faults of others, is what God is looking for in us. Ah, this is a wonderful story! I hate-love this story.
THINK BIG. START SMALL. GO DEEP.