Jesus told a “parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else” (Luke 18:9). He was talking to the proud, the self-confident, the self-important. I know people like that. Sometimes I see one in the mirror.
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, have mercy on me,a sinner!’ I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other, because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9–14).
Sons of middle-class America are taught to be proud. The culture shapes us. We’re challenged to be stronger, faster, richer, smarter, and better looking. We’re coached to become king of the hill, the best in our field, the guy in the big office, the one with the flashy car and the biggest house on the cul-de-sac. We’re trained to be proud. Jesus’ parable flies in the face of our cultural norm. “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).
At the last Passover, Jesus “got up from supper, laid aside his outer clothing, took a towel, and tied it around himself. Next, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel tied around him” (John 13:4–5). At a common first-century dinner-party, guests gathered around a low table and lay on their sides, propped up on one elbow upon pillows. In this fashion, one guest’s feet were too near the face of the next diner. Therefore, the host provided a servant to wash the feet of his guests. Apparently, this bit of etiquette was overlooked, so the Lord took the opportunity to illustrate the truth he had been teaching. The King “humbled himself” by becoming a slave (Philippians 2:7-8).
The broken-hearted, humble Tax Collector illustrates the only possible approach to the Throne of the Most-Hight God. The arrogant Pharisee thought God owed him something, but the Tax Collector knew better.
“God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded... Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:6–10).
Jeremiah wrote, “The wise person should not boast in his wisdom; the strong should not boast in his strength; the wealthy should not boast in his wealth. But the one who boasts should boast in this: that he understands and knows me—that I am the Lord, showing faithful love, justice, and righteousness on the earth, for I delight in these things. This is the Lord’s declaration” (Jeremiah 9:23).
“God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13).
All Scripture quotations, except as otherwise noted, are from
Holman Bible Publishers’ Christian Standard Bible.