Luke 18:10-14 NIV
“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.”
Two men (A Pharisee and A Publican) went up to pray.
Two men: A self righteousness religious leader and a chief of sinners (tax collector) went up to pray.
It is sobering that Jesus as a story teller does not give many easy-to-identify-with options in this story. Jesus presents two extremes here. A self-righteous big headed religious leader on one extreme and a self-loathing sinner on the other who desperately needs the mercy of God as they have absolutely nothing to bring to the table of salvation.
Jesus does not cast a third moderate character (option) here that most well-meaning Christians would identify with. In a nutshell, Jesus is saying that for all humanity, it boils down to those two categories of consciousness. We are either self righteous zealots deluded that we can bring something (our works) to the table of salvation, or we are self-loathing chiefs of sinners with absolutely nothing to bring to the table of salvation like every rugged sinner out there normally considered too wretched to be saved.
It gets more sobering when you consider this:
The seat occupied by the publican (the tax collector) represents every human being that senses their need for God, this includes morally upright people that appreciate that moralism does not equal righteousness, it includes pious Christians who are doing their best but understand that their best amounts to filthy rags rags in as far as what and who saves are concerned. The position of the publican also represents prostitutes, serial rapists every wretched soul out there, everyone who senses their need for God regardless of their position in society and how we classify them in our self-serving instruments of quantifying sinfulness and righteousness.
On the other end, the Pharisee represents every human being that senses no need for God. This could be a cold-hearted atheist or satanist out there who feels they don’t need God for anything. The sobering part however is that the position of the Pharisee also clearly represents the most pious and religious amongst us who confuse their religious content as merit that can be brought to the table of salvation. By casting a Pharisee (a religious leader) on this extreme Jesus does not want us to miss this point (this danger).
By casting just these two characters, Jesus is deconstructing our ideas of characterizing, quantifying and calibrating sin-fullness and righteousness. The message is reinforced, we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), therefore we are all equally in need of a savior – the head elder or Pastor occupy the same seat as a drug dealer, or suicide bomber if they both sense their desperate need for God.
It boils Down to Just Two Perspectives
Jesus casts a binary scenario here, there is no multivariate or multi-faceted reality about how we are saved and how we think we are saved, it is rigidly binary. We either think we can save ourselves or we think that only God can save us. We are either self righteous in our consciousness or we appreciate we have nothing to bring and only to the cross we cling as we are saved by Grace. Good works matter and we should aim to do better, but we must never think that our good works can be brought to the table of salvation. This parable is actually a “dangerous” narrative coming from Jesus. Because two men went up to pray, a religious men and a rugged wretched outcast sinner, and only the wretched rugged sinner went home justified and the religious man goes down the temple as raw as he came up. Jesus is suggesting that there is more hope for the salvation for the wretched chief of sinners out there than there is for the self righteous religious zealots who imagine that their impressive works and strict adherence to the law can be brought to the table of Salvation. The take home from the parable Jesus presents is the question of how we relate with ourselves, God and others in relation to how we think we are saved.
I covered this subject more comprehensively in the message I presented on Nakedness Versus Nudity. You can watch the complete video on ExpoundSA’s Facebook page by clicking on the poster below.
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