Read Luke 18:9-14.
It’s always important to notice the audience when Jesus tells a parable. This one is addressed to people “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous” Luke 18:9. Hate crimes reach far back into history but all, even Orlando, have roots in that statement. We sort people into the acceptable and the unacceptable with ourselves as the point of comparison. The unavoidable outcome of this mindset is in the next phrase of the verse “and treated others with contempt”.
Contempt is clear in a hate crime and it makes us cringe. But we may find our reaction to the story go through subtle changes. As details pour out we find our compassion for the victims tinged with judgment. We come to the conclusion that clearly we are better than the perpetrator while also asserting our righteousness compared to the victim. We are removed them all. Even without a gun in our hand, we hate.
Today is a day to confess our hard heartedness and follow Jesus’ example at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:35) and simply weep for the dead.
“The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed…” Luke 18:11 (ESV)
How do you navigate walking through a mixed crowd? Does your radar turn on for who can come into your space? Who makes you clutch your keys or check your wallet? A certain urban street awareness is a good thing, but it also tells us something about our perspective of others.
The Pharisee has come to the Temple for prayer, not necessarily a formal ceremony. In the crowd of the Temple’s inner courtyard, he stands by himself, his radar scanning for sinners, people who may contaminate his worship simply by brushing by him.
Where do you sit in church? If our prayers are isolating experiences, we better check our perspective of the people God has brought onto our radar.
Today is a day to ask God to show you the people close to you, people you may be uncomfortable with, people who are calling on His name and need you to add your voice to their cry. Pray for God’s presence for those recovering in Orlando. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” Isaiah 43:2a (ESV)
“God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” Luke 18:11 (ESV)
Our self-righteousness becomes a perversion of how we see others. Contempt even seeps into our prayers. The Pharisee’s prayer of thanks is filled with relief that he was not anybody else, and the list of the “other” is long. The proof that he is not the “other” is in his own righteousness, “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”
When a hate crime hits the news, is your first reaction, “Thank God I wasn’t there!”? When hearing further details do you judgmentally ask, “What were they doing there?” You assert your own righteousness for never going near such a place or exhibiting such behavior.
The thing about sin is that it completely levels the playing field. Our self-righteousness is tainted with our unobserved sin. (Isaiah 64:5&6) The ground at the foot of the cross is level. We all come to God in need.
Today is a day to examine our “other” list. Who do you sort into that unacceptable category in order to justify yourself by comparison? Thank God that his grace includes you all.
13 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!’ Luke 18:13 (ESV)
Now we meet the “other”, a tax collector despised by just about everybody in Jewish society. He has come to the Temple, too. He is one of those the Pharisee is being careful to avoid. This man also stands removed from everyone, sure that no one would give him welcome. He’s trying to avoid notice. He makes no eye contact, even with God and he visibly mourns his failures.
Failures... we put the things we have done wrong into that category, and the Pharisee is convinced he has no deeds to confess. But the words of confession say, “We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.” Now we clearly see that we stand right next to the tax collector and confess our failure to love the “other”.
What kind of love does God have in mind? “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” 1 John 3:16 (ESV)
Today is a day for humble confession knowing that your failures have already been met with Jesus’ love for you. Lay your humble heart at the foot of the cross.
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:14b (ESV)
This must be a very important thing for us to understand. Jesus says it twice, here in Luke 18 as a tag to the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, but also back in Luke 14:11 as the tag to the parable about guests and hosts, Luke 14:7-14. In Luke 18 Jesus is telling us about true repentance. In Luke 14 he’s telling how grace makes us gracious. Read that text to see how God’s bountiful love turns our attention to those on the fringe, those least likely to be loved.
Jesus suggest that we not only notice them, give them the benefit of the doubt, live in peaceful coexistence, but invite them to our banquet. His gift of grace transforms our perspective and we only desire to give God’s love to them. Our humility, in God’s hands, becomes a means of grace extended to the people least likely to ever feel welcome.
Today is a day to ask God for a new vision for the purpose He has for you. Look at your “other” list from the previous days and consider how God is asking you to alter your direction so that your paths can cross. Your offer of an understanding relationship may be their first taste of God’s Grace. Start by praying for them regularly.
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