Summary: God honors the prayer that crys out to him for mercy. It does not have to be a lengthy prayer but when it is from our heart it will reach his.
I’m sure many of you are familiar with the nursery rhyme that goes like this “Little Jack Horner, sat in a corner, eating his Christmas pie, he put in his thumb and pulled out a plum and said ……(wait for congregation to answer) what a good boy am I”. Before anyone could say anything, Jack Horner ended his story by saying “what a good boy am I”.
Wonder if you noticed that in today’s parable we have little Jack Horner’s first cousin the Pharisee who stands in the temple to pray and tells God “what a good boy am I”. I am not like other men he says: I give a tenth of my income to charity, I fast twice a week; I am not an adulterer, thief or rogue - I’m not a sinner.
Actually, according to religious laws at that time, the Pharisee was probably a good man. None of his claims were challenged. But his theology was wrong. Giving a tenth of your income is great but this is not a Louisiana purchase – we cannot buy favor or salvation with the Lord. Also, we are all sinners and comparing oneself with someone else is an act of self righteousness to say the least. God knows everything about us without having to fill him in with the inside story of who we are. Worse still is bad mouthing someone else whom we do not even know! Instead of allowing God to decide if he was a good boy or not, he goes on to say “I am not only good but I am also better than other men.”
Some of us may be in danger of doing the same thing when we compare ourselves with others. Perhaps you are saying, I contribute more to the Church than others, I don’t drink, smoke or hang out with the wrong crowd and for sure I am better than so and so. Friend, we are to leave the judging of others to God. It is quite a different thing to pray for someone who we might assume is less righteous than ourselves but to assertively say that we are better than others is wrong in the sight of God. When I was a little boy I was taught not to point fingers at anyone because 4 of those fingers point back to me!
As you know, Jesus directed this parable to those who exalted themselves and despised others. The Pharisee focused too much on himself. He uses a lot of “I” statements. I thank you, I am not like, I fast, I give tithes, I posses, I am not a sinner (sounds like a Narcissist to me). It’s all about I, Me and Myself and everyone else can go to hell! In a sense he was making his case to God saying you ought to be happy with me because I am a really good guy. Besides, I have achieved everything from my own from hard work and I am giving you a tenth of my money. The Pharisee’s attitude is one that suggests God was a debtor to him and should be grateful and happy to have him. There wasn’t even a remote feeling that he owed God anything. There was no thanksgiving for what God had done for him, no word of praise and he argued that he deserved the best from God.
I do not know about you but I am not going to make it to heaven on my credentials but only through the nail pierced hands of my Lord. Isaiah 64:6 says all our righteousness is like filthy rags. The apostle Paul who wrote a third of the new testament had every reason to be puffed up but instead said “God forbid that I should boast, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”
Prior to the doctrine of justification by faith, which means we are saved by the atoning death and grace of God, people did believe that they could save themselves through their good works. I am sure the Pharisee was trying to drive home that point but he went wrong many ways especially because he knew everything about himself but never really knew God. Many people are set for this life but not for the life to come.
Today’s parable says two people went to the temple to pray but the beauty is that Jesus allows us to overhear the secret prayers of these two men. We would never have known what was in the heart of the men unless Jesus told us what happened. Likewise, God knows what is in our hearts. I am not suggesting any of us have bad thoughts towards others but we have to be careful because God is watching and knows our thoughts. Unless we esteem our brothers and sisters better than ourselves we may not have a seat at the table. Friends, the Kingdom of God is not made up of the proud and arrogant but rather humble people who confess that they are saved by the atoning blood of the lamb.