Luke 18:9-14 says:
“And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; and I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
In the first verse of this parable, Luke sets the stage, and tells us that Jesus is talking to some people who thought they were righteous and viewed others as lower than themselves. Then Jesus talks, says that two men went into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax collector (a Publican). Jesus then says something completely crazy and really ridiculous. But if we’re to understand this parable’s crazy ridiculousness, we must view the parable from Jesus’ culture and context rather than our culture and context.
You see, when we read that there was a Pharisee and a tax collector here, our minds immediately go to one place: the Pharisee is the bad guy and the tax collector is the good guy. Why? That’s what our world has been taught. This was not what Jesus’ world would have felt or believed after reading or hearing this parable. They would have been shocked out of their shoes, they would have been astonished because Pharisee’s in their day were the spiritual superstars. If one of them showed up in a church today the people would be so impressed with his “godliness” that within a few weeks that they’d probably make him an elder or a deacon, they might even want him to be the pastor after a few months. Everything about the Pharisee’s life looked perfect, his faith would be robust, his singing would be loud and confident, his praying would be full of knowledge and eloquent, his family would look neat and in order, his dress would be proper and put-together…from the outside looking in it would look like this guy is the real thing, the Leader among leaders, the Christian among Christians, and the Saint among saints.
We can see this in the text, look in verses 11-12, “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; and I pay tithes of all that I get.” I think when we see the Pharisee say this we say to ourselves, “Man I can’t believe this guy would say something like that!” But, I think we are more like this Pharisee than we dare to admit.
Some of you think you’re more righteous than others because of a cause you stand behind – “I can’t believe that family is not being more “green.” Don’t they know that they should be trying to reduce their carbon footprint like we are?” Others of you think you’re more righteous than others because when you look in the mirror you think, “God must love me more than other people, I’m an amazing specimen!” Some of you think you’re more righteous than others because when you go to work you think, “Man, its good thing I’m here in this office, because all my co-workers are stupid! Who knows what would happen to this company if I weren’t here!” Some of you more sneaky individuals out there think you’re more righteous than others because of your faith. “I’m a better Christian than that guy, I mean really, he doesn’t even know where to find the book of Jeremiah in his Bible? He’s certainly not on my level spiritually.” Or, “I tithe and give more money than anyone in this room!” Or, “I’ve been serving with the youth group and children’s ministry longer than some of these people have even been Christians!” Or, “Look at my ministry, it’s four times bigger than this guy down the road. I must be a better pastor!” Or, “Is that really the sin you struggle with? I beat that a long time ago. Man, you must really be young in your faith.”
We obviously don’t say these things out loud, but you know that we all think them.
Hear me now, Jesus is offended by this attitude.