To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“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.’
“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.”
It’s one thing to be arrogant before other people; it’s quite another level of audacity to be arrogant in the presence of God. Can you imagine coming before God with an air of belonging, with a sense that you and God stand as equals in judgment or authority over other, lesser beings? I doubt many people actually think of themselves as God’s equals, but some sure act that way. Maybe we all do, sometimes. Any time we look down on others, diminishing their worth or belittling their struggles, we also lift ourselves up a little higher toward God. We like the feeling of sitting in the judgment seat, pointing fingers of blame and shame at the poor, little sinners. We even pretend to play God sometimes, condemning people in their faults, while conveniently forgetting our own. For those of us who have lived under God’s grace for a long time, it becomes easy to take grace for granted and to allow our hearts to forget just how wretchedly sinful we are and how utterly lost we would be if not for Jesus’ redeeming blood.
The tax collector’s prayer should be written in large print across our hearts. “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” These may sound like the words of a lost soul pleading for salvation, but they should also be the heartbeat and humble cry of each believer. Even after many years of knowing, following and loving Jesus, we remain sinners in need of mercy. We can be sure of our salvation, feel joyful in God’s presence, and trust completely in the Lord’s unfailing love, but we should never take that love for granted. And we should never exalt ourselves over others as though we deserve God’s love and they do not. Those who exalt themselves will eventually be humbled, and those who humble themselves, before God and other people, will be exalted through the redeeming grace of Jesus, who alone can wash away our sin and give us the hope of eternity with God.
Our world desperately needs God’s grace and the message of Jesus, and our world needs humble followers of Jesus who love the lost and help fellow sinners find their way home. Jesus wants his church to be filled with tax collectors, sinners and other lowly souls crying out for mercy. This world celebrates the powerful and the arrogant, but God’s Kingdom welcomes the weak and the humble.
Jesus, You humbled Yourself, even unto death on a cross. Help me to walk in humility and to lift others up to You through love and service. I pray this in Your mighty name. Amen.
Pastor Mike Mirakian