He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: "Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: 'Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.'
"Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, 'God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.'"
Jesus commented, "This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you're going to end up flat on your face, but if you're content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself."
As I read this passage this morning the question was loud and clear: Which of these two men am I?
Clearly, I’m the Pharisee.
I have a very high regard for my personal level of awesome. I’m quite confident in the depth and purity of my faith. As look out at the world around me I see so many “tax collectors” that I am glad I am not like.
You may think I’m being facetious or trying to make myself look contrite by identifying with the “villain” of this story. That’s an old preacher’s trick by the way, you make yourself look bad but in so doing you’re making yourself look good (the Apostle Paul did it quite a bit and it makes me chuckle).
I’m completely serious. Over the last number of years there have been so many people that I have looked down my nose at. As I reflect on this reality it makes me a little sick to my stomach. Sure, I talk a big game about loving well and all that, but in those places deep down that we don’t talk about at parties, I am this Pharisee.
One of my favorite song writers is Derek Webb. He wrote a song called “Crooked Deep Down” the opening lines go like this:
My life looks good i do confess, you can ask anyone
Just don't ask my real good friends
Because they will lie to you
Or worse, they'll tell the truth
This story told by Jesus reminds me that this is the reality of what is going on in my soul. If I were really honest about myself, then I’d have an attitude towards the divine and others would be more like the “tax collector.”
I hope that I’m growing in this.
I see in myself much self-righteousness and arrogance. I desperately want to eradicate those things from my life.
How about you? Where are you in the process? With whom do you most closely identify in this story?