“C’mon everyone, the show’s about to start,” we would shout to the adults! With joy and anticipation we would practice our lines, sing our songs, tell our jokes and sometimes even have a willing audience. You see, “the show” was a big event when my cousins would visit us during the summer. Hours turned into days as we practiced and made the most of every single moment together. We knew we would be center stage for as long as we could hold our parents’ attention. However, we usually had only one paying customer. Our grandfather. He was enthusiastic and encouraging — the perfect spectator. Truly, our audience of one never failed to be wowed by our endeavors. We felt like celebrities when he was in the front row. How I miss those days. I never thought about it back then, but I wonder if we were more focused on making his experience wonderful, or just feeding our own egos by standing in the spotlight. Could be a little of both, I guess.
Are there areas of life we tend to seek the spotlight? Our job position? Our marital status? Our successes? What about our faith life? Sometimes, without realizing, we may exalt ourselves above others. Talking about our good deeds, our accomplishments, how much we study, or how often we attend church functions could – in a way – lift us up and lower others. We may believe we are doing all the right things, but do we have the proper motives? Are we seeking God’s blessing or the approval of man? If we spend time convincing others we are wonderful and filled with the Holy Spirit, then maybe we need to stop and check ourselves for a moment. Maybe we should ask ourselves if what we are about to share will puff us up in an egotistical manner, or if it will build others up. Jesus taught on many important topics through His parables; it’s no surprise He chose to direct us to humility so often.
Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 NLT)
Luke tells us the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the time, are the audience for this parable. The picture Jesus paints with His words is undeniable. The Pharisee uses his prayer offering as an opportunity to boast about his own goodness and his own righteousness. This man never mentions any wrongdoing and displays no humility before the Lord. He doesn’t repent of any sin he may have committed. It is almost as if he believes he has committed no sin at all. The Pharisee is quick to point out the wrongdoing of the tax collector — in this, he makes himself look better. In the same breath, he gives himself praise for all of his practices under the law. All the while, the tax collector humbles himself and calls himself a sinner. He begs God to show him mercy. Because the tax collector admits his wrong-doing he is found righteous. He goes home justified.
Are you broken-hearted over what separates you from God? If so, Jesus assures you of God’s love and forgiveness. He has promised in His word to accept you, love you, and make you a new creation through His Son. No amount of good deeds, church attendance, tithes, community service, loving your neighbor or anything else you do is sufficient to take away your sin and allow you to stand before a holy God on your own. This parable encompasses the gospel message. Jesus was sent to die on the cross – for you. His death is the only “work” that cleanses you and makes you righteous before God.
Let us embrace humility. May we cling to the gift of righteousness, which only comes from Jesus. Today, let’s pray that God reveals any area of our life that may need examining and ask God to search us, cleanse us and work in us so we will lack nothing. For just as the tax collector walked from the temple beating his chest from the sorrow of his sin and received forgiveness, so shall we.
Holding Fast to Hope,