He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14 ESV
When we compare ourselves to others we get into trouble because we seldom see ourselves as others see us (or as God see us, for that matter).
The Pharisee in this passage compared himself to others. He obviously knew the law because most of the sins mentioned are in the law…except tax collecting, a legitimate government function.
The Pharisee knew something was wrong but could not quite put his finger on it, so personalized the issue by reference to similitude, something like the tax collector must be wrong, dealing with those Romans, you know? The Pharisee worked overtime in his mind to figure out just what was wrong compared to his presumably righteous life, though nowhere in the Bible does it say to fast twice a week!
Similarly, those of us aware of America’s present culture war and who take a principled pro-life and family point of view can get over-wrought about it to the point of abusing others. I have.
But where do we find freedom and peace?
We find it in the attitude of the penitent one in the temple that day, who beat his chest, MEA CULPA, MEA CULPA, MEA MAXIMA CULPA.
When we see our own faults, then we know God’s grace and can extend it to others, for what is in our own hearts?
It’s the difference between approaching things from above or from below.
It’s always better from below because God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. As the passage says, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Is it better to be right or redemptive?
This in no way diminishes the need for just laws that protect innocent unborn children in the womb. But we do not now have that. What do we have? We have a chance up front to offer forgiveness, justification, to sinners like us in Jesus’ name.
Do you know of someone in your congregation who is struggling with a past abortion? The Silent No More Awareness Campaign is committed to helping women and men hurt by abortion to find healing and spreading the message about the damage caused by abortion. You can find healing programs in your area.
Written by: The Rev. Michael Hinton