Have you ever been in a situation where you were surprised at who was picked for something special? I suppose that the idea of the underdog getting on the team, or the shy girl getting asked out by a guy who was dared to do so (don’t be a jerk like that, by the way), have led to a number of movie plots. But have you been seated at a table (in uncomfortable clothes) at an awards ceremony where someone unexpected was chosen, or watched hands go up for a vote that went in a direction that you didn’t anticipate?
Some people might come into this account (“The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector”, per the NIV section headings, Luke 18:9-13) thinking that the religious person was righteous. They might even think that the Pharisee was justified in being “thankful” for his righteousness, and even in reminding God about it. These same people, whether because of what they were taught, or perhaps because of their hatred for tax collectors, probably thought that the tax collector’s remorse was well justified, and perhaps even that his confession and begging for mercy wasn’t enough to justify himself before God (given all that he had done).
However, Jesus makes it clear that the second man – the tax collector – was justified.
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Luke 18:14 NIV
Being justified refers to being pronounced righteous. To be pronounced righteous before God is a really good thing, one that is even more important than having other people think that we’re good, moral citizens.
And, in the end, Jesus tells us how things really work. “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (from verse 14).
- Try to make yourself look good to others, at the expense of confessing your sins truthfully, and expect to have God humble you. Just look at those in the news who presented themselves as perfect, without being honest about their failings: how great is their fall when their secret sins are exposed.
- On the other hand, we can – and should – seek to be righteous before God, but that will require us to be humble. We will need to confess our sins, and admit to others that we’re not perfect. In fact, this might mean sharing some ugly sins that we have kept hidden for a long time. I’m not saying that you have to dump your bucket of sins on everyone you meet, but there is a transparency and humility expected of us. And, for those who humble themselves like that – real humility, not just putting on a show – Jesus says that they should expect to be exalted.
As a result of this teaching, let’s not be proud. A commentator writes, “Only those who are deeply aware of their own sin are able to accept the grace of God and therefore receive his forgiveness. Those who are proud are unable to see their sin and are consequently unable to receive forgiveness.” [Black, p.297].
I think that we should consider what the “prayer of the Pharisee” looks like today. We might not thank God that we don’t work for the IRS. We might not brag that we fast and tithe. But, do we harbor pride in our hearts that we’re not like certain other groups of people? Do we want to make sure that God notices that we haven’t stolen anything today? Do we want to subtly remind God (and maybe other people who might be listening) how many good things we do?
Let’s make sure that we are seeking justification before God, and not just trying to look good to other people. Hint: if we find the righteousness that comes from Jesus, and seek to follow and emulate Him, other people will naturally see the good in our lives, too. There will still be those, both outside the church and – regrettably – inside the church, who condemn those who are living for God. However, in the long run, the truth will hold up under inspection.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for May 29, 2022
- The Lookout, May 29, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.
- The College Press Commentary, Luke, by Mark C. Black. College Press Publishing Company, © 1996.
- Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). Matthew Henry. 1706, via BibleGateway.com.