Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’
I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14, NLT)
Just a couple of thoughts. Note who Jesus is talking to. People who have confidence in their own righteousness, and because of that self-righteous attitude, they look at everyone around them with scorn (for how else could you think of yourself as great, if everyone else looked better?). Jesus, seeing their hearts, teaches. He tells a story. And he places them squarely in it.
Do you feel the sting of this story? I do. How often have I compared myself to someone else, telling myself that I am so much better, and in that feeling of "better-ness," gone before God with relief, recounting the ways I am good as the basis for why he should accept me? Too often. Maybe you can relate.
But then, the story doesn't end, and there is this great news on the other side of the sting. There is this other dude in the story, who can't even look up to heaven he's so bad, and the only thing he can think to tell God is just how bad he really is. And in that admission, to plead for mercy.
And then Jesus delivers the punch-line: it is the sinner who is justified. The sinner. Do you catch what he has done? The way to acceptance and mercy is to just be honest about who you are, broken over who you are, and to humbly fall on your knees before him and tell him. And all his mercy flows toward you.
I don't have to pretend. I don't have to tear anyone else down. I don't have to put up a front, affix a mask, conjure up some false image. Just honestly, repentantly plead for mercy, and he'll give it.
Thank you Jesus. Bless you Father.