In Luke 18, Jesus has a word for some, who Luke tells us, were confident of their own righteousness. It seems there were two men praying in the temple. We are told first of the Pharisee. Now he either was standing by himself as he prayed, or he was praying about himself. The translations don’t seem to be real clear about that. It looks to me like the context would favor that he was standing by himself. As we listen to his prayer, his aloneness could be either that he preferred to be at a distance from people like the publican…or it could be that because of his attitude no one wanted to stand near him. His prayer is not about praising God. He didn’t ask God for anything for himself or for anyone else. He is very obviously enamored with himself. He proceeds to thank God for His wise work in producing one such as himself. He carefully lists his sterling character traits…“I am not a robber. I’m not unjust or an adulterer. And I’m very glad I’m nothing like this publican.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t accuse him of lying. He was telling the truth. He really wasn’t a thief or unjust or adulterous. And he was no tax collector either (his lips would have curled in disgust at the very mention of such a despised person). No…he was not like other men.
But let me ask you some questions, “Would you have wanted to meet this Pharisee? Would you want to spend time with him…maybe have a meal with him or invite him to your home to meet your family? If you were in some kind of trouble would you have called on him?” Me neither! Why? In a nutshell, he’s a liar. No, he didn’t lie about what he hadn’t done or about not being like the tax collector. That was true. But his whole life is a lie. He is a lie. He is a lie about what matters most. He is a lie about prayer. He is a lie about people. He is a lie about real relationship with God. He is a lie about salvation. And when he left the temple that day, he was still alone.
Now listen to the plea of the publican/tax collector. Don’t we tread lightly at this man’s prayer? Are you hushed into reverent meditation as you listen? “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And this man, far from being confident of his own righteousness, would not so much as lift his eyes heavenward, as he smites his own breast in penitence over his sins, which were many. This man’s prayer exalts God…the God of amazing grace Who abundantly pardons and devises ways for prodigals to come to their senses and return to Him. This man admits his sinfulness and his need to God. This man reveals his broken heart and his longing for better.
Now let me ask you, would you want to meet this man? Invite him home and spend time with him? Would you feel you could call on him if you needed help? Me too! Because his life is true. He has told the truth about God…the truth about his own sins…the truth about righteousness and salvation. He lights the way for other sinners who are willing to be honest also. When the tax collector left the temple that day, he wasn’t alone.
There is a form of “righteousness” that is very, very cold. It puts people off. It offers nothing warm…nothing helpful…nothing inviting. It builds walls, not bridges. It’s full of what one doesn’t do and empty of what one should do. In contrast to this, our Lord went about doing good (Acts 10:38a) and helping others. He was Light…not the glare of a spotlight, but the warmth of the candle in the window. May we go and do likewise in His Name and for His glory.