Friday, August 23, 2013

The humbled self

Most of the time when Jesus wanted to deliver one of his parables, the Scripture says quite simply, "And he taught them a parable, saying, ....."  We who read and study those parables know there is a story involved, followed by an explained or inferred application.  Sometimes the parables have some common sense applications and sometimes the application may not be easily determined. We might be like the disciples who asked the Lord on more than one occasion to explain it to them. 

There is one parable in particular, in which Jesus is very clear in describing the ones who need the teaching of the parable, and the application is very plain.  Look at his introduction to a parable recorded in Luke 18:9, "To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:"  Now there is a parable that is directed to people who really need the teaching and the application.  The trouble is, many will fail to see themselves in the description Jesus gives.  Here is the rest of the parable. 

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “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.”

I have to tell you, this Pharisee sounds like a pretty good guy. He doesn't steal, he isn't involved in doing evil. He is not an adulterer. And best of all, he isn't like the dreaded tax-collector.  He is faithful in fasting and tithing.  He even gives thanks to God that he isn't like all the bad people he has referenced. 

His real problem is in declaring his righteousness is based on how good he is. I know it won't be easy but he needs a lesson in humility from the other man who was praying, the mean old tax-collector.
In the prayer of the tax-collector, we see a man who knows he is in a pitiful shape. He cannot even raise his eyes and look toward heaven. He knows his need. He knows his emptiness. So without telling God a single thing about how good he is or bad he is, he humbly prayed, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

His prayer touched the very heart of Jesus, who tells us this man went home justified.  The real lesson and application for us comes in the closing sentence, " For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”


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