Self-Aware? Or Self-Promoting?
THIRD IN MY TEACHING SERIES ON THE PARABLES OF JESUS
Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector
Luke 18:9-14 NLT
Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Same Message. Different Parable.
Okay, I admit it may seem like I’m trying pretty hard to drive a specific point home. Well, actually I am. I have a pretty strong conviction that until a follower of Christ gets these first two parables to the point where we prefer the broken guy over the put-together guy, the broken son over the self-righteous son, I’m not sure we can really understand the remainder of Jesus’s parables through a proper lens.
When receiving any sort of information into our mind, our human nature has a great deal of difficulty interpreting it through any lens other than our human, fallen, self perspective. Even when reading a parable such as the Pharisee and Tax Collector, or the Lost Son, or many others, we still tend to attempt to understand them through the value and belief systems of the world we live in. This, more often than not, will lead us to surmise for the scriptures that the Christian life is something to be done, sought after, improved at, measured, rewarded, and so on. Why? Well, that’s the nature of everything we were born into. Winning games. Getting our way. Striving for the promotion. Comparing ourselves to others.
Unfortunately, God’s perspective is quite different than that. Not just different, but entirely opposite. So, as a follower of Christ we are actually being more obedient in following Jesus by not fighting to win, surrendering our way to God’ ways, being content with what we have and where we are, seeing ourselves as whole and complete, lacking nothing in Christ.
Last Is First
This is why the tax collector – despised by society – received the favor of Jesus. Not by being last, but by being willing to accept and admit his “lastness.” Not by being despised, but by acknowledging the wretchedness within him that caused so many to despise him. Not by trying to justify his actions, but by becoming broken because of his growing awareness of his prideful, hurtful actions.
In a different parable, Jesus seems to explain what is in his mind and heart when he favored the tax collector over the Pharisee, “the last will be first, and the first will be last. That’s where we’ll pick up in my next posting.
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