Summary: The journey of faith is not necessarily a walk of holiness, but rather a walk of humility.
Luke 18:9-14 “A Humble Walk”
Christians have a saying among ourselves, “Please be patient, God isn’t through with me, yet.” This saying is talking about the Holy Spirit’s ongoing process of shaping us into the image of God, or as theologians would say—sanctification. We acknowledge that we are not perfect people—there are rough edges, so to speak, which need to be worn away.
Our individual lists of areas, on which the Spirit should work, are all different. Many of us we need a little more patience or more joy in our lives. Others may include self-control, or the desire to spend more time in prayer. Few of us, however, would list humility as an area where we need to grow.
Humility is the focal point of this story of the Pharisee and the tax collector.
THE MAKINGS OF HUMILITY
Jesus’ story would have shocked his listeners—especially the Pharisees, who were watching on the fringes of the crowd for an opportunity to trip him up. It was assumed that the Pharisees were righteous in God’s eyes. They were certainly more righteous than tax collectors. Jesus turns the tables, in his story, however.
Jesus was critical of the Pharisee and of a common practice of religious people—self-righteousness. The Pharisee’s life was based on his achievements. In a sense, the Pharisee was a self-made man. He created himself through discipline, self-control, and a commitment to specific religious practices. He was proud of what he had done. Jesus wasn’t impressed.
Though Jesus may not have applauded the tax collector’s vocational choice, he did highlight the way the man approached God. The tax collector did not focus on himself, but on God and God’s mercy. Instead of pridefully standing before God, the tax collector bowed before God in humility.
People don’t just decide to be humble. Humility is born out of a person’s perspective on the world, God, and themselves. The lens that humble people look through is called “gift.” God is the giver. The world and everything in it is a gift—a good gift according to the Genesis story. Humble people see themselves as the receivers of God’s good gifts. Such a view point goes against the grain of our humanity and our society.
Another key characteristic of humble people is their outward focus. The Pharisee couldn’t get his eyes off himself. He bragged to God what he had done. The Pharisee wanted people to look at him. He really wasn’t interested in knowing anything about other people. Sadly we are all like the Pharisee. “Look at me,” we say, at my accomplishments, my clothes, my car, or my abilities.
People who are humble usually don’t draw attention to themselves. Their focus is on other people and their concern is on the needs of others. Humble people are often unaware of what people see in them, and sometimes don’t even care.
THE WAY WE PRAY
This story demonstrates how our pride or humility affects our prayer lives. When I read of the words and actions of the Pharisee, I get the vision in my mind of a child coming home waving a good report card. The child runs up to mom and dad and announces that she has earned four “A’s” and one “B.” She then reminds her parents that they agreed to pay her $4.00 for every “A” and $3.00 for every “B”.
We often unconsciously come before God with the attitude, “I’ve been good,” or “I’ve worked hard for you” and expect God to answer our prayers on this basis. We get angry at God when God doesn’t reward us according to our efforts. Sometimes we even catch ourselves wondering why we even continue playing the Christian game, when we don’t get the blessings we so richly deserve.
In reality, we can only approach God through the cross—through what Jesus accomplished in his life, death and resurrection. We come before God empty handed hopeful that we will receive God’s love and grace. When we pray for others, I imagine the story of the lame man being lowered from the roof, by his friends, and set before Jesus. We come before God, in humility, and set the needs of others before him. We don’t do so trusting in our goodness or accomplishments, but solely in God’s grace and love.
Our pride or our humility makes a difference in our lives and in our relationship with God. In this story, Jesus points out that the tax collector went to his home “justified.” “Justified,” means to “make right.” We know what it’s like to live in a right relationship with others, when everything is “good” between us. That’s the type of relationship the tax collector had with God, when he left the temple.
On the other hand, things were never quite right with the Pharisee. Either he had to do more, or God wasn’t doing enough. Things never lined up in his relationship with God. Instead of peace there was unrest. Instead of contentment there was dissatisfaction. Instead of joy there was sadness.