Originally scheduled for July 17
The story is a familiar one. The Pharisee comes up to the
temple to pray. On the surface of things, it seems that he is indeed
one of the righteous.
By outward appearances, he is righteous. Fasting is only required
on the Day of Atonement, he fasts twice a week. He tithes not only
the items required, but every little herb in his garden. His
garments reflect the religious requirements of the Old Testament
Law. Everything that you can see says that this is a righteous man.
But God sees the heart, and in this parable we may see it too.
What’s clear is that he bears a great deal of hatred to the other
man. His heart is an excellent example of being judgmental. But
perhaps worst of all is that he is presumptuous towards God. He
knows, he assumes, that God must agree with his analysis of the tax
collector and himself.
May I ask you, then, one simple question: just exactly what did
this man want from his prayers towards God? He asked for nothing —
and from what I can tell, that’s what he got.
The tax collector is quite a different character. Whether
or not he can see himself as others see him I do not know, but he
can see himself quite clearly.
A tax collector in those days was a toad working for the invading
Romans. He made his fortune by cheating people out of taxes which
weren’t really required. In the eyes of his community, this made him
worse than a swindler or even an adulterer.
He also knew what he wasn’t. He knew he wasn’t righteous or worthy
in God’s sight. He’s the kind of guy who sits in the back of the
church, hoping the preacher doesn’t recognize him when it comes to
fire and brimstone time.
There is a certain direct simplicity to the man. He knew what he
wanted; he knew what he needed — and he came to ask for it. He
needed God’s mercy. Christ tells us that he got it.
As we approach communion this morning, may I remind you of
the obvious point of this parable. The one who exalts himself shall
be humbled; the one who humbles himself shall be exalted. In
communion this can be made most clear, because this is the time at
which you come close to God. Think about yourself; did you come this
morning prepared to ask God for nothing? If that’s the case, He will
be more than willing to give that to you. May I suggest that you
wish to take advantage of the opportunity to bring yourself before
God, doing it in a very clear manner.
Check your attitude. Is this a time for you to be looking down on
Acknowledge who you really are. God already knows, but he likes to
make sure you do too.
Ask for what you really need — the mercy of Almighty God.
His mercies are new every morning, including Sundays. Seek
him while he may be found.