"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 18:13-14 (ESV)
She didn’t see me, but I saw her.
Her husband and two young daughters were meeting her there. She got out of her car in her work clothes, still wearing her I.D. badge, and walked to join her family across the parking lot.
Her preschool-age daughter happily shrieked “Mommy!” and ran toward her for a hug.
But when she reached Mommy a few feet away, the little girl was greeted with irritation. The mother continued toward her husband and baby and proceeded to greet them in a way that wasn’t friendly or welcoming either.
Wow, I thought. What an entrance. I’m sure glad I’m not like her.
Pause and insert the dreadful moment when my thoughts of judgement toward this woman started penetrating my own heart. Suddenly, I remembered all the ways I'd been unfriendly, unwelcoming and unkind to my own family.
I’d greeted my kids with disappointment in the early morning when their arrival in the living room was sooner than I’d hoped and cut short my peaceful moment with my hot coffee and Bible.
I’d criticized the outfits my husband picked out for our young children when he had taken the lead on getting them ready for church so I could keep getting ready myself.
I’d been short and sidetracked by what felt wrong and out of place when I walked into a room where my kids were playing, and I spoke critical and thoughtless words rather than speaking to my kids as people I adored and deeply cared for.
How many times had I corrected one of my kids out of annoyance without working to connect with them first?
How many times had I been upset with my husband when he was parenting in a way that was different, not wrong?
What seemed so unloving from the mom in the parking lot was no different than my own past actions staring right back at me. The memories flooded my mind. I was no different.
Wow is right. But this time, it was my own correction without connection, and my own critical spirit, that needed fixing.
In Luke 18, Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector. Starting in verse 9 and ending with verse 14, Jesus tells this story:
“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.’”
Goodness. I’m often self-righteous like the Pharisee in this parable, unable or unwilling to see my own shortcomings but judging the shortcomings of everyone around me. Yet I yearn to be more like the humble tax collector, not even lifting my eyes to others or to heaven and instead pleading with God for mercy because of the reality of my sin.
God is a just God who will one day judge our lives based on how we lived them, but He is also gracious to us in the face of our sin — so there is no room for us to judge others in self-righteousness. When we point fingers at others — telling God, “But what about her?” — He gently and tenderly whispers, “But what about you?” He cares deeply about the condition of our hearts, friend. May He find our hearts full of humility … and overflowing with grace for others.
Father, You know how I struggle to see myself and others rightly. Today I pray that You would help me keep humility at the forefront of my mind, and that I would be gracious with my words and thoughts about others who engage in behaviors that mirror my own. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
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FOR DEEPER STUDY
1 Peter 5:6-7, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (ESV)
Do you usually identify most with the Pharisee or the tax collector in the parable? Why?
When interacting with others, seek to connect with people first before calling out something that feels off or out of place. What a difference it could make in your relationships! And in the comments, share your thoughts with us about today’s devotion.
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