“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God I thank you that I am not like other men-robbers, evildoers, adulterers-or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
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.’
I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18: 9-14
I am convinced that most people don’t have a quarrel with God; instead, their frustration is with the people who represent Christ. I receive quite a number of emails from people who have been hurt by an organized church and as a result have given up on trying to make sense of their faith. Most of these people are still spiritual, but they’ve had bad experiences with the Pharisees of this world.
Let’s notice a few things about the attitudes of these Pharisees. They were people who were confident, not in God’s grace and mercy, but in their own righteousness. Because they believed they were perfect, they felt superior to everyone. In fact Jesus says, they “looked down on everybody else.” Over the years I’ve noticed something interesting about people who feel superior to others, they never seem content in their own delusion of perfection. And as a result, they spend their time making other people feel guilty for not living up to their standards.
In the parable, Jesus focuses on one of these confident Pharisees. The Pharisee stood where everyone could see and hear him, and though the prayer was directed to God it was really about himself. His prayer was a series of self- congratulations about his pious life and was aimed at reminding everyone in the temple about what a spiritual man he was. These attitudes of superiority, when they come into the church, devastate the congregation.
There are millions of discouraged Christians who have given up because they couldn’t live up to the expectations of would be Pharisees. When Jesus, the Good Samaritan, picked up the broken man by the side of the road and took him to the Inn, He was reminding us that the church is an Inn. Within the church family people should be able to find rest, nourishment, companionship, healing, renewal and strength to continue their journey. Jesus told the Innkeeper to look after the man and see him through his healing process. Church isn’t necessarily the place for the saints, but the broken.
For those of you who have been beat up by the system, find a church home where the gospel is preached and where you are loved unconditionally. Become part of a loving caring church and share that love back with the broken people Jesus will lead to the church. Do you notice whom Jesus said was justified? It was the tax collector, one of the most hated people in Judah. Jesus seemed to have a special place for the outcasts of society. He felt their honest pleas for love and acceptance. They were the people who understood they were nothing in the world’s eyes, but in God they had everything. They were the people that knew the true meaning of, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” and they were never disappointed. What amazing good news, when we cry out to God, He hears us and comes running to throw His arms of mercy around us, never to let us go. We are safe in Christ, not because of our pride and self-importance, but because of the kindness of the God of the Universe.