“God, I thank You that I am not like other men.”
“God, be merciful to me a sinner” Luke 18:11& 13.
This parable was spoken by Jesus of a man who sincerely believed that he was living a life that pleased God. He kept the commandments with regard to morality, ritual and especially spiritual exercises. He went daily to the temple to pray, fasted twice each week and tithed all his possessions. He did not extort money or possessions from others and neither was he unjust toward others. He was faithful in his relationships. He was certainly faithful to his Jewishness and was thankful for his exalted position in the temple and community. This was a righteous man that the population would have looked up to and sought to follow as a role model.
There was nothing outwardly wrong with the things that he did. However Jesus points out a flaw in his motive. He saw himself as different from others with regard to righteousness. In his mind he had achieved this level of righteousness by his own effort and that God blessed him because he pleased God by his life. This is why he looked down upon one who did not have all the advantages he had.
We can fall into the snare of having the wrong motive. We may want to prove to Jesus that we are worthy of His name by disciplining ourselves to live a morally righteous life with all the right spiritual exercises. We may feel that we have to prove to Jesus that we are worthy of His love. We may want to prove to other Christians that we have advantages because we are worthy of them. This is the working of pride. The fact is we are not at all worthy.
We know we have this attitude when we become critical of others (like the Pharisee in the parable) who we consider don’t measure up. What we are doing is despising them as unworthy of Christ’ love and kingdom. In a personal context Paul writes concerning this attitude, “What things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ” (Philippians 3:7).
Jesus ends this parable by telling us that it is the one despised who went home justified. He came to the temple to pray but he knew he had no basis for God to show him favour or to even hear him. His only prayer was for God’s mercy toward an undeserving helpless sinner. Praise God that Jesus said that he went home justified or who could be saved?
Those of us who have had the advantage in life of coming to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour ought never forget that we were no different to others who are yet to receive Him (1 Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 2:3). Those advantages were not because we were better or more deserving than others (Deuteronomy 7:7, 8). They are the outworking of God’s grace of which we are stewards and for which we should be very thankful. Jesus said, “The Son of man has come to seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10) and that is our mission as well. It is not to look down upon others as the Pharisees did but to show mercy by lifting them into the presence of Jesus Christ just as another faithful servant once did for us.