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.” [Luke 18:14 (NLT)]
In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax man, the Pharisee self-assuredly comes before God and thanks Him that he’s not a sinner like other people (most especially not like the tax collector.) Just to make sure God understands how good he is, the Pharisee lists his virtues and mentions his tithing and twice weekly fasting. In contrast, the tax collector meekly stands before God, unable even to lift his eyes heavenward, humbly confesses that he is a sinner and begs for mercy. Jesus told His disciples that it was the tax man, the admitted and repentant sinner, and not the Pharisee, whose prayer made him right with God.
We’d like to think we’re like the penitent tax collector yet how often do we actually take an inventory of our failings and honestly and humbly admit them to the Lord? Do we try to justify those failings with excuses? Like the Pharisee, do we ever commend ourselves because we’re not as bad as the other fellow? We may have lost our temper but we weren’t as rude and crude as the other person. We gave the middle finger salute in traffic but the guy deserved it for his bad driving. We gossiped but the other woman started the conversation and shared the really juicy bits. We may have embellished a bit but the other person is so pompous it serves him right. We were nasty, but he was nastier, and we may have been selfish, but they were undeserving.
The parable of the Pharisee and tax collector contrasts pride with humility, how not to pray with how to pray, and self-righteousness with repentance. We’re familiar enough with it not to identify with the Pharisee’s ostentatious display of piety yet I suggest that we are far more like the Pharisee than the tax collector. In theory, we understand that no human righteousness is enough for a God who demands perfection and that none of us are saved by our own merits. In reality, I think we’re often more self-absorbed than self-examining, more likely to extol our virtues than admit our sins, and more interested in justifying our actions than being justified by God.
Let us never forget how completely undeserving and unworthy we are of God’s grace. Like the tax collector, we must recognize our sinful nature and admit our sins before we can repent them
The man who is seriously convinced that he deserves to go to hell is not likely to go there, while the man who believes he is worthy of heaven will certainly never enter that blessed place. [A.W. Tozer]