Jesus told this parable:
The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector…
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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. Luke 18:9, 11, 13-14
Until I pondered this scripture, I never thought I’d want to be associated with a tax collector. Either then or now.
During the time of Christ, tax collectors were known to amass wealth by demanding tax payments from the Jews in excess of what Roman occupiers required and then they’d pocket the difference. Not the kind of guy who earned a My Child Was Citizen of the Month bumper sticker…whose mom might then have displayed it proudly on the backside of the family’s donkey.
It’s one thing for a guy to do his job and collect money owed as per Roman rule but an entirely different matter to do so dishonestly and steal from citizens.
These reviled guys held an unfavorable rep. Duly earned.
Except this tax collector…
Entering the temple to pray alongside a Pharisee, the tax collector is referenced in the Pharisee’s prayer as ‘this tax collector’.
I can’t help but read a hint of disdain in his words, or, no, his – fake cough – prayer. He might have even tossed a sharp thumb over his shoulder at the tax man in the midst of what God must have judged to be a rankling oratory.
Sure the collector may have taken money for himself beyond what was owed or maybe he refused to tithe. Scripture doesn’t say. Nor does it matter. Or scripture would have said. But from the prayer he uttered, they guy publicly acknowledged his sinful state before Almighty God.
That was huge.
Contrasted with the Pharisee, note this tax collector’s posture:
He 1) stood at a distance and 2) was unwilling to glance heavenward (vs 13).
Before he even spoke, his humble heart was evident. At that point, God could have easily pronounced from heaven, “I exalt you, son.”
This tax collector humbled himself. So God exalted him.
The Pharisee was busy working up his own exultation — and doing a pathetic job at that. So God humbled him.
I tell you that this man (tax guy), rather than the other, went home justified before God.
Hard as it is to admit when I’m wrong – and sometimes I am 🙂 – I’d rather confess with raw authenticity and go home justified before God.
I guess the Osmonds had it right. One bad apple don’t (always) spoil the whole bunch :)…
May God make my heart like that of this tax collector.
As you enter this weekend, join me in paying attention your posture before God. Will you be justified or need to be brought down a notch?