Luke 18:9-14 Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Reflection Here Jesus goes again, picking on us righteous religious folk. Like the Pharisee in Jesus’ teaching tale, we feel pretty good about ourselves. We go to church (the synagogue) for all of the appointed prayers (special services), we read blogs about scripture, we steer clear of contact with undesirable people and fulfill our biblical obligation to give ten percent of our income to the temple or church (well, maybe not quite). Surely we deserve God’s good graces. But Jesus turns our presumption upside down when he commends our unassuming neighbor, the sinful tax collector, for humbling himself and then stealthily puts us in our place, quite a few pegs down the ladder. Oh dear.
This teaching tale requires we find our face in the nearest mirror. “Yes, there I am. No, I am not a thief, a scoundrel, two-faced or a rat. I have a respected job (or have retired from one) and give sensibly to my church (in truth I could do better). Just look at me Lord. Unlike all of those reprehensible people, I am law abiding and above reproach.” But our flourishes holds no sway with Jesus who exalts our neighbor who does not even presume to “look up to heaven.” And we are humbled.
In the parable that immediately precedes the tale of the Pharisee and the tax collector, Jesus uses the story of a widow and an unjust judge to underscore his point about where we stand in relationship with God, “praying always.” Our proper place is humbly turning toward God and persistently asking for justice because, “will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?”(Luke 18.1-8) We are meant to humbly depend on God.
Which brings us to Jesus’ third admonition, given as he blesses the little children. “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18.17) Jesus’ commends the unaffected sincerity of children. Unspoiled and unembellished we turn toward the One from whom we receive all blessings and respond spontaneously as does a child, naturally delighted, knowing our place is safe in the heart of God. We are meant to humbly depend on God rather than ourselves. Now, that is spiritual freedom.
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