I was recently sharing a story that Jesus told about a Pharisee and a tax collector at prayer in the temple (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee, respected, learned, religiously at the top of the righteousness game, thanked God that he was not a sinner like other men, especially not like the tax collector across the way. The tax collector, on the other hand, “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I was surprised, as I related the tax collector’s part, to find my eyes stinging and my throat tightening with tears. For a moment, I was in his place, broken, humbled, and seeking mercy from God.
He could have been bitter, wanting nothing to do with God or with that self-sanctified Pharisee and others like him. Rome had dumped this job on him; his neighbors despised him for it. Trapped, he could have become churlish, turning to abuse of his power over collections levies to buy his escape.
Instead, with honesty about his brokenness, he turned to God for mercy. His admission of sinfulness cut to the core; it stripped away all pretense. Why did I start to cry when telling his story? Because I realized that I am he; and I want to be more like him. I want to be more familiar with raw humility and honesty about my sinfulness. I don’t want my right-doing to insulate me from right-being.
Most times, I’m not under as much pressure as this man, so I can start to look and act more like the Pharisee. God forbid that I should become so insulated that I can’t be real with myself and with God. Because, as Jesus says, the one who truly “went down to his house justified” was the one
- who beat his breast in recognition that he was poor in spirit
- who mourned his plight
- who was meek, standing afar and unwilling to lift his eyes
- who hungered and thirsted for righteousness by acknowledging his sinfulness
- whose honesty revealed a purity of heart
- who was persecuted even for his desire for righteousness
He is the one who was “blessed” (Matthew 5:1-11).
I love this guy. I’m so thankful his story moves me; there’s hope for this crusty heart of mine.
Isaiah 57:15 – For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite”.
Psalm 51:6, 17 – Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart … The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.