He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 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!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14
When I read this parable, I immediately identify with the tax collector. I’m humble, I’m repentant, and doggone it, people like me! My guess is that I’m much more like the Pharisee than I like to admit. Why do we do that? When we read the Bible, why do we often identify with the hero of the story? How many of you have read the story of David and Goliath and thought, “I’m just like Goliath. Always resisting the Lord.” I bet you’ve read it and thought, “I’m like the underdog David. God helps me fight and win.” Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but I’d argue that the story is really about The Hero, namely Jesus, who would come one day and really destroy God’s enemies. My hunch is that we all like to think of ourselves as Luke 18 tax collectors instead of the Pharisee. And that’s why we need to heed Jack Miller’s words-
“My name is Jack Miller, and I am a recovering Pharisee.”
If you read the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke 18, you might conclude that I speak too severely about myself. I am not usually a strict, rigid, unfeeling religious person as the man in the parable. But there is still enough of the Pharisee in me- and, I believe, in every one of us. The Pharisee is essentially a person who is more aware of the sins of others than of his own; he consequently feels superior to other human beings and judges them without first taking the beam out of his own eye (Luke 6:39ff). He also lacks loving hope. He does not expect grace to do much for him or others.
We recovering Pharisees often find that in our minds we have collected albums full of dark snapshots of other people, ourselves, and God and His grace. (Powerful Evangelism for the Powerless, p.59)
I don’t know about you, but I’ve got lots and lots of “photo albums” full of dark snapshots of people who have wronged me and dark snapshots of all of their shortcomings. It’s so easy to be more aware of the sins of others! And it’s definitely harder to beat your breast and cry for mercy for your own sins.
May God give grace to us recovering Pharisees!