“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’” (Luke 18:9-14 ESV)
The Pharisee in this parable of Jesus is the epitome of self-confidence. Yet Jesus wants us to look at him and say, “This is not the way we ought to be.” He was a man who paraded his religious deeds proudly. He went up to the temple, stood in a prominent place so all could see him and say, “Here is a pious godly man.” He prayed not to God, but to or about himself. He boasted in his deeds, did not thank God for what he had and glorified himself. He felt he was better than everyone else, especially this rotten, unclean, sinful tax collector. Never once did he demonstrate any compassion or love. He did not go down to embrace him and say, “Brother I love you. I feel your pain. Let me help you out.” This tax collector was unclean.
A lot of Christians behave that way. A lot of us boast in our good deeds and think we are so much better than everybody else. We feel nice and comfortable in our little world. Yet we often show little or no compassion to sinners. When we compare ourselves to many of them we may think we are such good folks, but when we compare ourselves to God, which this Pharisee did not do, we are overwhelmed by our sinfulness. Indeed we will wonder how God can love such a one as us.
Like the tax collector, we are to come to Jesus as children. He, like a humble child trusted God totally, and surrendered himself to Him. He then simply and humbly accepted the forgiveness and mercy he was given. He did not dwell on his sin or wallow in his guilt, or even ask what else He needed to do. He did not say “I don’t deserve it. I haven’t earned it.” He knew he could not. He knew he needed to rely on the love and grace of the Father alone, not on himself. He is the one Jesus wants us to be like.