Luke 18:9-14 Respected Religious Leader versus Selfish Corrupt Tax Collector
A friend of mine and co-blogger, Laura Martin, published her book Positively Powerless – How a Forgotten Movement Undermined Christianity, WestBow Press. She was gracious enough to provide me with a copy to enjoy and write a review. Her topic is how the movement of positive thinking has “dethroned [Christ] and the self was made sovereign, rewiring our minds and weakening our faith.”
I believe Martin is on-point with a specific biblical explanation of misdirection (please read page 8 of her book) referencing Norman Vincent Peale’s best seller – The Power of Positive Thinking. But it was Martin’s reference to “Spiritual Pride” (page 25) that motivated me to write this post.
This prime self-righteousness is found in varying degrees in all of us. It just depends on how far we choose to exploit our perceived worth. Upon reading Martin’s example of “Spiritual Pride” in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector, Luke18:9-14, I was motivated to stop and consider not the religious leader, but the heartfelt actions of “a sinner” lifting Him up.
The parable describes the words and actions of two very different men dually praying at the temple. The first man is a member of the Pharisees: a strict group of religious Jews who advocated obedience to Jewish Law and were influential in the synagogue.
The second man is a tax-collector. He collected the required taxes to give to Rome. But, tax-collectors were also known to extort additional monies which they kept for themselves. They were typically dishonest and hated by fellow Jews.
Knowing who these men are, one would assume to know how their actions of prayer at the temple would play out. The Pharisee would devoutly lower himself before God; honoring God thus lifting Him up. And we could then assume the tax-collector would roboticly go through motions of prayer, without offering true remorse for his livelihood.
But just the opposite occurs. In the story we realize Jesus shares a truth we are to learn from the Pharisee and the tax-collector: What matters is the position of our hearts towards God, not our prejudged status in the community.
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.’
Only God knows the pious heart of the false Pharisee as he prayed his selfish prayer:
- comparing himself as more righteous than others
- extolling himself for following Law
- not acknowledging sin, asking for mercy or lifting God up
It seems the Pharisee felt he had no sins to be forgiven as he compared himself to others. He erroneously thought because he followed the Law, he was good with God.
At the same time, God was listening to the tax-collector’s humble prayer: “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.’
The corrupt tax-collector’s heart exploded with:
- and was out of alignment with God
In the Bible it is accepted that the heart — in Hebrew, lev — is the seat of emotion… “In Judaism, the heart is the seat,”… “Your awareness of ‘ahavat Hashem’ [love of God] starts in the heart,” So Jews beating their chest was a way of acknowledging their heart is not with God and by beating it, they realign it with Him. http://ow.ly/XBgmd
This corrupt tax-collector’s actions and words of prayer were all about singularly coming before God and begging forgiveness. He compared himself to no one, because why would he? The Bible states we individually come before God: Romans 14:12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
There is no comparison to “sinners” in heaven and the tax-collector knows this. With each action and word, this man humbles himself before God. Thus he lifts God up by acknowledging: God – the only way sin can be forgiven. Whereas the Pharisee did not even believe that he had sin.