The Two Worshippers

After telling the parable of the persistent widow, Jesus told another parable to his audience – “this one addressed to people who were confident in their self-righteousness and looked down on other people with disgust.” I like how The Voice paraphrases this parable:

10 Imagine two men walking up a road, going to the temple to pray. One of them is a Pharisee and the other is a despised tax collector. 11 Once inside the temple, the Pharisee stands up and prays this prayer in honor of himself: “God, how I thank You that I am not on the same level as other people—crooks, cheaters, the sexually immoral—like this tax collector over here. 12 Just look at me! I fast not once but twice a week, and I faithfully pay my tithes on every penny of income.” 13 Over in the corner, the tax collector begins to pray, but he won’t even lift his eyes to heaven. He pounds on his chest in sorrow and says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

In the surprising punch line of the story, the publican walks away righteous before God while the religious Pharisee does not. You can imagine how shocked Jesus’ audience must have been at this surprise twist. I like how it says that the Pharisee prays “in honor of himself.” His position to God is one of arrogance and self-worship. He does not ask for forgiveness because he does not believe he needs any – and so none is given. The publican, on the other hand, approaches God only with his need. He has nothing to offer heaven and can only throw himself on the mercy of God. I found this thought from Christ’s Object Lessons intriguing:

“The Pharisee and the publican represent two great classes into which those who come to worship God are divided. Their first two representatives are found in the first two children that were born into the world. Cain thought himself righteous, and he came to God with a thank offering only. He made no confession of sin, and acknowledged no need of mercy. But Abel came with the blood that pointed to the Lamb of God. He came as a sinner, confessing himself lost; his only hope was the unmerited love of God.”

We should pay attention to the warning inherent in this parable. It’s a warning against the lie of self-sufficiency – the kind of “self-sufficiency” that disgusts God about the Laodicean church in Revelation 3: “ Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (verse 17). Sobering indeed. The bad news, of course, is that, because of our human weakness, we are completely incapable of curing ourselves of this disease of self-dependence and self-worship. But the good news is that we don’t have to try to cure ourselves:

“But no man can empty himself of self. We can only consent for Christ to accomplish the work. Then the language of the soul will be, Lord, take my heart; for I cannot give it. It is Thy property. Keep it pure, for I cannot keep it for Thee. Save me in spite of myself, my weak, unchristlike self. Mold me, fashion me, raise me into a pure and holy atmosphere, where the rich current of Thy love can flow through my soul. ” (Christ’s Object Lessons)

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