Feb. 28, 2016
In our Gospel reading (Luke 18:9-14), we heard about two men that went to church to pray. One thought he was better than the other. Perhaps he really did fast twice a week, and give one tenth of his income to the church. We, as a church that is struggling with finances, might think this is the type of person we need to have attend here regularly. After all, the Pharisees weren't poor by any means, and a tenth of their earnings could definitely help us stay in the black. On the other hand, we might be apt to think the tax collector would be greedier, and perhaps we wouldn't trust him, and maybe we wouldn't even want him as a member. But what would the Lord say about all this?
He would tell us our thinking is completely backwards, for He Himself said that the tax collector went home justified before God, and the Pharisee did not. Why? Because the Pharisee was relying on his own righteousness. His attitude was anything but humility towards God. No one earns salvation through their own righteousness, because no one has ever led a perfect life, except Jesus. As Paul told the Romans, "No one is righteous - not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one." (Romans 3:10-12) Salvation is only through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect, sinless life, and then paid the price for our sins on the cross, rising again to defeat death and the devil for us. But we have to accept that salvation, which means humbling ourselves by admitting that we can't do it on our own. This is something the Pharisees' pride would not allow them to do. And therefore, they were not justified before God, and He was not pleased with his prayer.
The tax collector, on the other hand, knew he was a sinner. And he admitted His guilt before God and asked for forgiveness. It doesn't matter if you have sinned a little or a lot. You still need Jesus and you still need to ask for His forgiveness, trusting in Him alone for your salvation. This tax collector was indeed forgiven, and Jesus used him as an example as to how we should also pray.
So if both of them came to our church, would we show more respect and give more attention to the Pharisee? The apostle James wrote, "For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' and you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,' have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?" (James 2:2-3)
And what about each of us? Look into your own heart. Are you more like the Pharisee or the tax collector? Do you silently compare yourself to other people, and think you are better than them? Humility is perhaps the hardest lesson to learn about being a Christian. In fact, just when you think maybe you've got it down, you start to take pride in your humility! And there you are, back at square one. I am not advocating false humility either. Constantly putting yourself down isn't humility, it is acting as though God made a mistake in creating you - and God doesn't make mistakes. Lying about yourself isn't true humility, either. If someone asked me what my IQ was and I said 80, I wouldn't be acting humble, I would be lying. We are supposed to use the gifts and talents that God gave us. The apostle Peter wrote, "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms." (1 Peter 4:10) So whatever the Lord has blessed you with, be it intelligence, or a special talent - artistic, musical, whatever¦ you are to use it, not deny it. But never, ever think you are better than someone else because the Lord has blessed you with that talent. God gave it to you for His glory, not your own.
So remember what we heard in our Epistle Reading (Philippians 2:1-4) - "Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves." You are God's creation. He made you exactly how he wanted you, and will guide you in the special purpose He has for your life if you let Him. But always remember, life is not a competition. There will always be someone richer, someone better looking, someone more athletic, someone with more musical talent, a better voice, a faster car, a bigger house. We are not on this earth to be the best by human standards. We are on this earth to serve God, to be His people, to shine His light in this world - not our own. Our day to shine will be in heaven, not on earth. Jesus said, "Whoever is the least among you is the greatest." (Luke 9:48) and He also said, "To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne." (Revelation 3:21) So isn't swallowing your pride here on earth by regarding your brothers and sisters in Christ as deserving of honor above yourselves, and admitting your guilt before God, worth receiving honor from God Almighty, and getting to sit with Christ for all eternity? The moments we spend here on earth pass so quickly, and are as nothing compared to forever. Jesus said the Pharisees, "loved human praise more than praise from God." (John 12:43) Which do you love more? I pray it is the latter.
Underdog has superpowers, but goes around shining shoes for people as Shoeshine Boy;
Just as Jesus is the Son of God, but washed the disciples' feet as the Son of Man.
We should follow their example of humility¦