In chapter 18, Jesus tells a parable about two men who are praying in the temple. Two men went up to the temple to pray . . . sounds a bit like one of those lawyer, rabbi, priest jokes! Actually, it was perhaps the most extreme contrast of the day. There was a Pharisee (highly regarded religious leader) and a tax collector (lowest of the low) coming into the temple to pray. In human terms, we would assume that the Pharisee had a higher standing in God's eyes and would prove to be more acceptable.
He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’“Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’”
Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.” The Message Luke 18:10-14
In one of those twists that Jesus loves, He reveals that the hearts of these men are radically different than their appearance. The New American Standard puts it like this ~ " . . . for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, he who humbles himself will be exalted."
The Pharisee elevates himself as one who fasts and tithes, not like a tax collector who swindles, is unjust and perhaps even adulterous. In other words, he elevates himself by standing on another man's back.
The tax collector is slumped over back in the shadows and even averts his eyes. He beats his chest as a sign of repentance and pleads for God's mercy on him, a sinner. There is no pretense and no comparison to another.
When Jesus tells this story, he makes it clear that He is not impressed by our list of accomplishments and sacrifices. He is much more interested in the true state of our heart.
I believe that the biggest stumbling block in our lives is pride. It is much too easy to get caught up in what we perceive to be our own goodness. Our appearance of godliness becomes more important than our actual godliness and we begin to take credit for what only God can do.
The tax collector got it. He knew that he didn't have a leg to stand on. He knew that his only hope was God's mercy. He humbled himself before the Lord, bringing nothing with him and was completely dependent on God's power to save and transform.
That is where we are -- stripped of our pride and humbled before Jesus.
There is no better place to be.
In truth, I have nothing to bring before Jesus. I can simply place my life before Him and ask Him to make something of it that pleases Him. I am no better or worse than anyone else. I will never be famous -- but oh, how I long to make Him so.
"Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God
that He may exalt you at the proper time."
1st Peter 5:6