LIVING LIKE JESUS: The Gospel of Luke—Week 8
Luke 18:9-14; 20:45-47
We are in our fourth and final week of examining Jesus’ spiritual practice of humility, and it is in this week’s passages that really dig into the essence of why practicing humility is so important. As we see in this week’s parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, humility is not just about good, moral behavior. Whether you live in pride or humility ultimately has eternal consequences.
In this parable Jesus contrasts two men and two attitudes when it comes to God and redemption. The first man is a Pharisee. Though the Pharisees tend to be the antagonists in most of the stories surrounding Jesus and his ministry, they would not have necessarily been seen as such by many in their society. At this time, the Pharisees are seen by many as the protectors of Jewish culture and tradition. They are, for the most part, firmly committed to God’s Law and living lives in keeping with it. They are also firmly committed to instructing the next generation and to protecting them from the idolatrous culture in which they live as part of the Roman Empire. We know both from Scripture and from early Church history that a number of Pharisees, including Nicodemus and the Apostle Paul, become followers of Christ and leaders in the early Church. The Pharisee in this parable is everything that his society considers righteous. Yet, as Jesus points out, his heart is actually far from God. This Pharisee perfectly illustrates the truth that moral behavior, regular church attendance, giving, and even ministry can live side by side with a heart full of pride. He is not looking to God to justify him; he feels as if he’s done a pretty good job of that all by himself.
The biggest issue with such religious self-justification is not just that it is a type of pride. It is where this type of pride takes you. When we are convinced that maybe we are not so bad, that maybe our sin is not so sinful after all, we become blind to our condition and our need for God’s grace. Yet, we still understand that something is off, so if what’s off is not us, it must be something or someone else. We become masters of comparison and blame-shifting, just like the Pharisee in this parable. We deny our need for God’s grace and, thus, deprive ourselves of its power in our lives and our relationships. As Jesus points out at the end of this parable, this sort of pride can lead us straight to an eternity separated from God.
The Tax Collector, on the other hand, suffers from no such delusions. He is well aware of his sinful condition. With a humility that is reminiscent of that shown by the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 6, the Tax Collector refuses to even lift his eyes towards heaven. He is broken by his sinfulness and understands his hopelessness apart from the intervention of God. It is a heart rooted in this kind of humility that is ready to receive the fullness of God’s grace. This kind of humility not only opens our hearts to God’s saving grace, but it also opens our hearts to God’s transforming grace—grace that brings healing to our relationships by freeing us from the compulsion to compare ourselves to others or blame them for our problems.
The more we think we need something, the more we tend to value that thing. May we be so aware of our need for God’s grace that we value it above all else and never take it for granted.
- How does self-justification devalue God’s grace?
- How can self-justification damage our relationships with others?
- How do we guard our hearts from becoming like the Pharisees? How do we balance obedience to Christ’s commands with our natural inclination towards self-justification?
- Do you struggle with self-justification and comparison? How so? How can you move into the humility shown by the Tax Collector? What does he do in this story that you might not?