Jesus told a story to some people who thought they were better than others and who looked down on everyone else:

Two men went into the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood over by himself and prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not greedy, dishonest, and unfaithful in marriage like other people. And I am really glad that I am not like that tax collector over there. I go without eating for two days a week, and I give you one tenth of all I earn.”

The tax collector stood off at a distance and did not think he was good enough even to look up toward heaven. He was so sorry for what he had done that he pounded his chest and prayed, “God, have pity on me! I am such a sinner.”

Then Jesus said, “When the two men went home, it was the tax collector and not the Pharisee who was pleasing to God. If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honored.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Judging people is easy. Loving them, not so much. Jesus explained that people tend to get their priorities all out of whack, and what they think is good turns out, too often, to actually be bad. The Pharisee believed himself to be good on the basis of his selective comparison with the people around him. His prayer to God consisted of a list of reasons why he was better than other people. Besides his tithing, he fasted twice a week, probably on the second and fifth days of the week. The second day, because tradition held that Moses had ascended Mt. Sinai on that day to receive the stone tablets. On the fifth day of the week, he had descended on the news of the golden calf.

The tax collector, on the other hand, simply recognized reality. He knew he was a sinner and realized that he couldn’t do anything to fix it. All he could count on was the mercy of God. The Pharisee needed God’s mercy just as much as the tax collector. The tax collector recognized his need. The Pharisee saw the need of the tax collector, too. But he didn’t see that he needed anything from God, except maybe a pat on the back for being so swell.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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