Summary: Sometimes the challenge human beings face is overcoming their own pride.
Read Text: Luke 18:9-14
It has been one of the watch words of the past 10+ years. All sorts of societal ills have been blamed on the tendency of people to consider themselves more soberly than they ought. We’ve heard the catch-phrases, low self-esteem, a poor self-image. I have heard statistics that say that upwards of 90% of Americans suffer from “Low Self-Esteem.” Sociologists, Psychologists, all kinds of “ologists” have considered the impact that the poor assessment of ourselves has on society, and they certainly are great. Crime rises, conflicts increase, and our sense of morality slides as we seek to build ourselves up by tearing others down.
Realizing the destructive nature of this ailment, our government, the school systems, the court system, and even the churches have looked for an answer. “What can we do to raise people’s self esteem, and give them a more positive self-image?” That has been the question before society for the past several years now. Several answers have been proposed.
Some have tried to entice us to feel better about ourselves by telling us how good we really are. How many times have you heard the politicians quote the French visitor DeTocqueville who said “America is great because she is good and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great?” How many times have you heard the statement, maybe you’ve even said it, that “people are basically good” and all you have to do is provide them a chance and they will shine. So the theory goes that we do nothing to make people feel bad about themselves, everything to make people feel good about themselves, and eventually our society, our schools, and even our churches will be better places. It sounds great doesn’t it! The problem is, it’s a lie. Before people can ever feel good about themselves, they must first learn to feel bad about themselves.
At the conclusion of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told a story of two builders, one who built on the sand and one who built on a rock. We all remember what happened, the storms came along and the house built on sandy soil was destroyed, but the house built on the rock withstood the storm because its foundation was sure. The lesson was simple, “Build your life on the truth of God, and you can be sure that when the hard times come, you will be able to withstand the strain.”
This morning, my goal is to make sure that everyone within the sound of my voice is building their self esteem on the truth of Jesus Christ, and not on the sandy soil of political rhetoric or psychological theory. Let’s take a closer look at the parable we read earlier, and notice the contrast that Jesus wants us to see.
I. Two Men
When Jesus told the story about the Pharisee and the tax collector no one had ever heard the phrase “low self-esteem,” or “positive self-image,” but it doesn’t take a Psychiatrist to see who fit in what catagory. The Pharisee felt very good about himself (a positive self-image). He would have appreciated Oscar Wildes’ statement, “To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.” You can almost see him as he marches into the Temple area for prayer. Notice the way he carries himself, the way he dances with a flourish right up to the front of the temple area. The language Jesus uses here as he says “The Pharisee stood up and prayed...” implies that he wanted to make sure that nobody could miss the fact that he was about to pray.
Now today some of the shock value has worn off of this story because we have become accustomed to thinking of the Pharisees as hypocrites, but to the people hearing this story the first time they would have been incensed. Notice who Jesus is talking to. (v. 9)
Jesus is in Jerusalem now, and some of these guys might still be able to hear themselves praying a prayer like this. The Pharisees held a very high position in society, and they were well respected for their holiness. Jesus is slamming the religious leaders right in their face. It would be kind of like going to Rome and telling the Pope a catholic joke. Now we might think it’s disrespectful of Jesus to say this kind of thing to these men who were very good men, but it was with a purpose. These people needed to be torn down before they could be built back up. They were building their lives on the sandy soil of self-respect, and the consequences of that would ultimately be destruction.
The other guy in the story, the tax collector, was suffering from what we might call “low self esteem.” Notice the way he handles himself. (v. 13) Collecting taxes is never a very popular profession, but especially in Israel, an occupied territory where the taxes are going to a foreign government, and the tax collectors are encouraged to line their own pockets with the money they collect, he was a hated man. While people probably “oohed and aahhed” at the Pharisees’ righteousness, they might very well spit in the face of the tax collector. While the Pharisee probably got alot of positive reinforcement in a days time, there might be weeks or months go by when the tax collector might not ever have a kind word spoken to him. It’s easy to see why the tax collector would feel poorly about himself. But notice, there was a certain advantage to his position in relating to God. Because of his low self-esteem, he knew he wasn’t worth much on his own merit.