Luke 18:9-14 (NRSV)
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Verse 9He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: Verse 10"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. Verse 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. Verse 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' Verse 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' Verse 14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."
Martin Luther once said, “The most dangerous sin of all is the presumption of righteousness.” In Jesus’ parable we meet a Pharisee who in his prideful self-assessment appears to be concerned about personal interests and how the public sees him.
The tax collector is quite the opposite. Though a representative of a hated foreign government, and despised for a reputation of dishonesty, surprisingly this tax collector has a conscience and pleads to God for mercy. The tax collector grieved deeply about his sin and God heard his repentant prayer. Jesus concludes his parable by noting that the tax collector’s humble prayer is heard and he went home justified, while the Pharisee did not. He was forgiven and went on his way to a new life.
Merciful God, there are so many insidious ways for us to presume to be right. Protect us from the powers of evil that create chaos rather than peace and hope. We need your abundant and ever-present love to sustain us on our life’s journey. Amen.