October 30 (Daily reading: Luke 18, all quotes NIV) Jesus addressed “some who were confident of their own righteousness” (v. 9). He told them a parable. A Pharisee and a tax collector went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee obviously considered he was doing God a favor by talking to Him! “He stood up and prayed about himself” (v. 11). His prayer was all about him. He reminded God of the multiple ways he was superior to other people. There was one thing he did not mention because he could not—humility! He elevated himself by putting others down. This self-justification would be his only reward. Jesus said about the hypocrites who conduct themselves in this way: “They have received their reward in full” (Mt. 6:5).
The tax collector was overwhelmed at even the thought of being in God’s presence. He did not feel himself worthy to look toward heaven. He prayed with his head bowed, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (v. 13). Jesus made His point: “This man (tax collector), rather than the other (Pharisee), went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (v. 14). Their posture revealed their heart: the Pharisee stood proudly; the tax collector was bowed in shame. Humility is an attitude of the heart. The Pharisee’s heart was full of himself; the sinner’s empty heart cried out for God’s mercy and grace! He looked to God for righteousness because he believed what Jesus would later explain: “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (v. 27).
Paul understood the lesson of this parable from personal experience. He had been a Pharisee, one who had many “reasons to put confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:4-5). But he testified that he had been “saved through faith … not by works.” He declared “It is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8-9).
– Al Gary