During the season of Lent this year (the 40 days + Sundays leading up to Easter) we’re going to be having Lenten devotional thoughts from Emory Wesley staff & students as a way to help us continue in our journey of figuring out what it means to live in community with each other and to be in relationship with God. We hope that these writings will be beneficial for our personal and communal understanding of what needs to change or shift in our lives if we are to live this Christian life more fully.
So, here we go.
Luke 18:9-14: “The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector”
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10″Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The 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. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13But 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!’ 14I 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.”
In this passage Jesus is telling “this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt”–basically these people think that they have all the answers and are righteous (live & act rightly) and that they have the authority to look down upon others. The author of Luke is giving us a big clue that Jesus is trying to send a strong message here about righteousness. So, as the parable unfolds we find a man who believes in his own righteousness (self-righteousness) and prays that he is glad that he has better circumstances and means than some of the ‘worst’ people in society…even this tax collector. The pharisee continues to name off the great things he is doing. Self-righteous indeed.
(Side note: often in the New Testament, tax collectors are named in addition the regular class of sinners…tax collectors were seen as even below ‘regular sinners’ because they were taking money from their own people to giving it to the Roman/occupying government.)
As the story continues, we see the tax collector standing far off from where the Pharisee stood to pray with his head bowed humbly, not even looking up to pray to God in Heaven. He asks for mercy and literally hits his hand against his chest as a sign of his lament, anguish, and his mourning of his own circumstance.
So, the question to ponder is “with whom do you identify?” or better, how do you identify (and deal) with being like the pharisee and how can we be more like the tax collector’s and have a faith this Lent that asks “Lord, have mercy on me.”