Summary: Have you ever thought that you were better than other people? If you have, how can you call yourself a Christian? Christians prove by their words and deeds that they are the same as everyone else/
A man went to visit a psychiatrist. “Doc, I’ve got two problems.” The psychiatrist said, “Okay, tell me all about it.” The man began, “Well, first of all, I think I am a Coca-Cola machine”.
The psychiatrist sat the man down and started therapy. For weeks, he gave it his best shot, but nothing seemed to happen. Finally, out of exasperation, the psychiatrist jumped up one day, took two quarters out of his pocket, shoved them in the man’s mouth, grabbed him by the ears and shook him until he swallowed the quarters. Then he hollered, “Okay, now give me a Coke”.
That’s when the man said, “I can’t, Doc. That’s my second problem. I’m out of order.”
The only people God can help are those who admit that they have a problem. They have to admit that they are “out of order”. They have to admit that they have a problem, admit what the problem is, seek help to overcome it and persist until the problem is resolved.
Have you ever thought that you were better than other people? If you have, how can you call yourself a Christian? Christians prove by their words and deeds that they are the same as everyone else, the only difference being that they show Christ’s love and that they admit that they are sinners and ask for God’s mercy and forgiveness. That is the point of the Gospel reading from Luke 18:9-14.
My mother’s doctor told her when she had to start using a cane that “pride goeth before a fall”. Jesus warned the people that the idea that we are self-sufficient for our salvation is a prideful one. Pride is one obstacle to faith. It blinds us to our needs because it makes us think that we can handle our needs and if we can’t handle them, they weren’t important anyway. Pride has no room for mercy, no need for forgiveness. If we think that we can satisfy our own needs, or if we think we are better than anyone else, we are dead wrong. All of us “put our pants on one leg at a time”, as the old saying goes. All of us are the same. If you want proof, look at any cemetery. Rich and poor are buried side by side. Jesus exalted the man who knew his place in the game of grace. How about us? Jesus knew that we have a need that can never be covered over or washed away by human deeds.
It reminds me of a story about a minister who was waiting to board a plane. He saw a businessman run up to an airline attendant and demand immediate entry on the plane. The attendant asked him to go to the end of the line and wait his turn. The man shouted, “Do you know who I am?” He said he was a senior executive who flew often, and he could have her fired. She said, “Well, I guess I’ll wait for that call, but you’ll still have to go to the end of the line”.
Arrogance is the opposite of true self-esteem, and it is the opposite of the two Great Commandments to love God and love people. Humility is a realistic assessment of who we are in God’s eyes. Connecting with who we are in God’s eyes is the start of our spiritual journey. The remainder of the journey involves staying in touch with who we can become with God’s help.
The Pharisee represented the best in religious society. His life reflected care about religious things. Pharisees were pious lay people and religious leaders who were dedicated to their religious observance and admired by others of their faith. The Pharisee thought that he was better than everyone else. He tried to justify himself in the eyes of God. These were his two big mistakes, and they are the same two mistakes all of us make at times. Sometimes we think that we are better than others, and I’m just as guilty of that mistake as everyone else here in this church is. We use anything and everything we can to justify ourselves-intelligence, where we went to school, where we live, sports, family, job, etc. We feel the need to prove ourselves to God, but that isn’t necessary as long as we come to him in true faith just like the tax collector came to God in faith.
The main issue in this reading is the sin of self-righteousness, the belief in salvation by works instead of trusting in God’s grace. The Pharisee believed that his good works would get him into heaven, but the tax collector had the humility to do what God requires. He faced the truth about himself and asked for God’s mercy and forgiveness. We can’t gain God’s favour with good works. Our good works have to be backed up with a genuine, humble faith. God has no use for people who boast of their achievements. We must humbly repent and confess our guilt. Humility raises us up to heaven.