I don’t usually watch American Idol, but I have watched some episodes.
In the early episodes when they are doing the auditions in the different cities, it is particularly embarrassing to watch because there are some people who think they are American Idol material, but they are terrible.
I always wonder if they really think they are good but are totally deceived about themselves or if they are acting in an attempt to get on TV.
I think, surely people can’t really be that bad and not know it yet somehow I believe there may be at least some who are really deceived about themselves.
If they can be deceived about themselves, then I wonder if I can also be deceived about myself?
I don’t mean in the sense that I could be on American Idol, but rather in my goodness.
I try to be a good boy, but am I as good as I think I am?
What kind of things am I ignorant about?
Is God pleased with me?
Why is God pleased with me?
Luke 18:9-14 helps us think about these questions.
The parable is written in the context of Luke 18:1-8 which speaks about prayer and encourages us to pray.
Luke 18:9-14 is about two people who pray, but it isn’t so much about prayer as about their approach to God.
The parable Jesus told is about two extremes of perceived righteousness, the Pharisee and the tax collector.
One was deceived about himself, but the other was very clear about who he was.
How did God view them?
The key verse in this passage is verse 14 which gives us the main point, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Let us read the text and think about what it teaches us.
I. The Parable
!! A. Going Up To the Temple to Pray
For the Jewish people, the temple was the place where they went to pray.
When Solomon had originally built the temple his prayer of dedication revealed that it was the place of God’s presence and so it was to be the place where people approached God. 1 Kings 8:29, 30 is Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple and he prays, "May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place.
Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place."
Even when Daniel was in captivity in Babylon many years later, we read that every day he opened his window towards Jerusalem and prayed towards the temple because God had promised to answer the request of Solomon and answer prayers made towards the temple.
In Matthew 21:13, Jesus also indicated that the temple was to be a place of pray.
So these two men both did a good thing when they went up to the temple to pray.
We read that the Pharisee stood to pray and prayed aloud and this was and still is the common way in which Jewish people pray.
When we were in Jerusalem at the Western Wall, we saw the Jewish people doing exactly this.
They prayed out loud, standing up facing towards the temple at the point closest to where it used to be.
But who were these men who came to pray?
!! B. Who Is The Pharisee?
The Pharisee was representative of a person who was super good.
We often view them negatively because of their reaction to Jesus, but if we had lived in that day, we might have had a different view of who they were.
There are two aspects about the Pharisees that are important to note.
Their name, Pharisee, may come from a word that means “expound” which suggests that they were people who studied the Bible.
Bromiley suggests that they were “the most accurate exegetes of the law.”
They studied God’s Word and tried to understand it and all that was in it.
Another aspect of who they were is that they were people who separated themselves from the rest.
Another interpretation of their name is that it comes from the Hebrew word for someone who is holy or separated.
Bromiley says that the Pharisees were “a Jewish sect or party whose members voluntarily took upon themselves a strict regimen of laws pertaining to purity, Sabbath observance, prayer, and tithing.”
They arose in the history of God’s people out of a concern for the nation of Israel.
They were concerned for doing right because Israel was an occupied nation and the values of the occupying nation threatened to take over and remove the worship of God from the nation.
Their study of the Bible and their desire for holiness was an example for the rest of the nation.
Not only that, Marshall says that their concern to fulfill the law correctly was seen to be a way of contributing to the coming of God’s kingdom.
They believed that if they were good and if many in the nation were obedient, God would come and deliver them from their oppressors.
!! C. Who Is The Tax Collector?
The tax collector was representative of a group that was super bad.
Often when tax collectors are mentioned in the Bible they are paired with the word “sinners,” which gives us some idea of the attitude people had of them.
There were several reasons why they were viewed as bad.
They had their jobs because they had bid for the right to collect taxes for the Romans.
This meant that they had a relationship with the Roman occupying forces and not only a relationship, but they worked for them.
The Romans and their occupation were hated by the Jews and anyone who accepted it was considered evil.
This relationship with the Romans also meant that their job involved them in regular contact with Gentiles, which made them unclean.
Uncleanness meant that they were viewed as sinful.
The method of tax collection was subject to abuse.
They would bid for the right to collect taxes by offering to collect a certain amount for the Roman government.
Of course the contract would go to the highest bidder.
They made their money by collecting more than they bid for.
It was commonly and probably accurately believed that they were greedy and dishonest, which once again categorized them as sinful.
So the tax collector and the Pharisee would have been perceived as being on opposite poles of righteousness.
In order to learn something from this parable, we need to think about whom we identify with in the parable.
Are we the Pharisee or the Tax Collector?
If we were to rewrite the parable for our world today what kind of people would we use?
Would we talk about a Mennonite Christian and a drug dealer or a gang member?
When I read this parable, I take it to be speaking to me as if I were the Pharisee.
I don’t find it hard to hear echoes of the same kind of language as that used by the Pharisee in the circle of Christians.
“I thank you that I am not like…” I go to church and…” So as we think about what the parable says, let us not be afraid to be honest about who we identify with and be open to what God wants us to learn?
The key concept which is taught in this parable is humility, but we notice that it has implications in three directions.
In verse 9 we read the direction Jesus intended for those who were listening.
He speaks to those “who were confident of their own righteousness.”
He also mentions that they “looked down on everybody else.” Verse 14 introduces a third direction which we need to consider when it introduces how we view ourselves and others “before God.”
So as we think about the meaning of this parable, I want to think about it regarding our view of ourselves, our view of others and how God views us.
!! A. Our View of Ourselves
The NIV says that the Pharisee “prayed about himself.”
This is a difficult phrase to translate and there are at least three different ways of translating it.
If the Pharisee prayed about himself, then it implies that he was not very humble and thought quite highly of himself.
Yet there are other was of translating these words.
The New American Version translates “was praying this to himself.”
This has other implications, perhaps that he was praying silently.
The English Standard Version translates it “standing by himself, prayed” which also suggests that he was off in a corner of the temple praying.
I am not sure which is the best translation but I lean towards the NIV because as we read the prayer he see that it is clearly a prayer about himself.
He is presenting to God all the merits he has accumulated in the kingdom.
As we read this list we have to affirm that he was indeed a very good man.
Every one of the things he did were good.
It is good not to be a robber or an evil doer or an adulterer.
Fasting and tithing are good things.
The requirement of the Old Testament was that Jews were required to fast occasionally, but this man fasted twice a week, which was much more than was required.
The Jews were required to tithe certain things, but his tithing was also more than was required.
When we look at this man, there isn’t anything we can criticize about his behavior.
We would love to have such a good man for a neighbor.
Our property and our marriage would be safe.
What challenges me about what this man prayed is that I think I have prayed in the same way as he did.
I have prayed, “I thank you God that I am not a drunkard.
I thank you God that I have never cheated on my taxes.
I thank you God that I have five merits on my driver’s license.”
If we are honest, I think we have to admit that this spiritual pride strikes close to home.