9 Now He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and began praying this in regard to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, crooked, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to raise his eyes toward heaven, but was beating his chest, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other one; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14
This parable is marked by two extremes. The dichotomy is purposeful. We have the consummately pious Pharisee, and the chest-beating penitent tax collector. Both had their eyes firmly fixed on themselves. One saw perfection. The other saw rubbish.
Actually, the culture at the time was inclined to think that the Pharisee had a right to crow, and the tax collector was indeed worthy of derision. These men are caricatures of polar opposites.
Truth be known, I find myself wanting to pray, “Thank you God I’m not like this Pharisee!” On the other hand, I see myself aligning with the lowly tax collector, but I’m not nearly penitent enough. Being slightly penitent won’t cut it with God.
Only the publican went home justified in this story, as he appeals to God to be “merciful.” In the Greek, the word is hilaskomai, that God would be propitious.
Are we favorably viewed by God? Out of the box, we possess no redeeming attributes. “All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment,” says the prophet Isaiah (64:6). Paul echoes this truth in Romans 3:10-12.
10 “There is none righteous, not even one;Romans 3:10–12
11 There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.”
Consequently, our only hope is the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. As abjectly humble as we might be, we should be eternally grateful that our propitiation comes only through faith in him.
My wife and I were having a discussion the other day on whether we’d ever be capable of standing before God. In the absence of any study on the question, my reflexive response was to say “no” we won’t, unless we invite Jesus to go first.