2014-10-31 - The Purely Proud and the Humble Pure
Author's Note: This devotion is based on a message first preached 2009-08-23. I hope you will get something out of it still after all these years.
Parables have been referred to as earthly stores with heavenly meanings. I find that they are not just that, but a multiple-course feast, packed into a bite-size nugget. Jesus gave the purpose of is parables in Luke 8:10 - "To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that 'Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.'" Parables can have a variety of layers - the story itself, a historical meaning for those present when it was first told, and a continual meaning that speaks to us all through the ages.
The parable we will examine today has two characters and I feel it necessary to properly set your mind to the perspective Jesus' audience would have had some 2000 years ago. We know how many times Jesus criticized the Pharisees so when we read stories about them we automatically think bad guys but back then people would've thought good guy. A Pharisee would be the good guy; he wore the white hat and had sidekick named Tonto. In the synagogue, the Pharisees were the super-religious lay men. The Torah, the Mishnah, and the Talmud - These guys knew it all; these guys lived by the book! Think deacon or elder when you think Pharisee. They were honored members of Jewish society. They were pretty close to the top of the religious ladder.
Then there's the other guy. He is called a publican. In an old western, these guys would've always worn black. They were considered the scum of the Earth, the very bottom of the religious food chain in Israel. Hired by the pagan Romans, he could charge exorbitant taxes and keep most of the money for himself. Think IRS agent, politician or worse; they were extortioners and traitors. They were the bad guys, at the bottom of the Jewish totem pole.
Luke 18:9-14 (NKJV) Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men-extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'
The immediate lesson to be had was the attitude we should have in prayer. The previous verse talked about persistence, while this one deals with attitude of prayer. It was specifically targeted to an audience in verse nine. The prayer of the Pharisee shows that he is out of touch with God, and is blind to his own hypocrisy.
Look at the two ways of prayer.
With the Pharisee, I imagine him strutting in and marching to the front. He is loud, with his head held up. He thanks God for his own good works, and when he compares himself to others, he finds himself ahead. "I" is used five times, as the subject doing action. He is praying more to himself than to God. His prayer sounded good to those around him.
And then there's the publican. He slinks in to the back, so no one will notice. Very quiet, with his head down, he is bowed before the throne he came to. He thanks God for God's work and his mercy. He compares himself to God's standard and finds himself short. "Me" is just used once, as the object of God's actions. He prayed to God with a simple prayer.
The prayer of the Pharisee sounds a lot like a prayer found in the Talmud (b.Ber.28b)
"I thank thee, O Lord, my God, that thou hast given me my lot with those who sit in the seat of learning, and not with those who sit at the street-corners; for I am early to work, and they are early to work. I am early to work on the words of the Torah, and they are early to work on things of no moment. I weary myself, and they weary themselves; I weary myself and profit thereby, and they weary themselves to no profit. I run and they run; I run toward the life of the Age to Come, and they run toward the pit of destruction."
Have you heard similar prayers? Have you ever been critical of someone else's prayers?
Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary, says the Pharisee had three problems. First, he was deluded about prayer; to him, it was a means of getting recognition for his goodness, rather than a means of recognizing God for his goodness. Second, he was deluded about himself. He thought he was accepted for who he was, rather than accepted in spite of who he was because of who God is. Lastly, he was deluded about others thinking he was better than the publican, even though the publican went away better in God's eyes - having been justified.
Now I'd just like to share a few comments of some of the early church fathers.
Ephrem the Syrian said, "It is always more difficult to confess one's sins than one's righteousness."
Cyril of Alexandria "No one who is skilled in wrestling ever crowns himself but waits for the summons of the referee."
Cyril of Alexandria said, "No one who was in good health ridicules one who is sick for being laid up and bedridden. He is rather afraid, for perhaps he may become the victim of similar sufferings The weakness of others is not a suitable subject for praise for those who are in good health."
Augustine said, "The Pharisee was not rejoicing so much in his own clean bill of health, as in comparing it with the diseases of others. When he came to the doctor, it would have been more worthwhile to inform him, by confession, of the things that were wrong with himself, instead of keeping his wounds secret and having the nerve to crow over the scars of others. It is not surprising that the tax collector went away cured, since he had not been ashamed of showing where he felt pain."
Basil the Great "Be on your guard, therefore, and bear in mind this example of severe loss sustained through arrogance."
You don't have to pray long, fancy prayers. Just say a simple one from the heart; it is heard by God, and he’ll answer. Big-sounding prayers don't get answered. I wonder if it's because God scratches his head, going, "Huh? What'd you say?"
Isaiah 29:13 (NIV) - These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.
Next time, we will examine the attitude in all we do - not just in prayer.
All scripture references are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.