Who Can Be Made Right With God?
Psychologists say Self-Justification Chokes Love Out Of a Relationship. In their book Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson describe how a fixation on our own righteousness can choke life out of love.
"The vast majority of couples who drift apart do so slowly, over time, in a snowballing pattern of blame and self-justification. Each partner focuses on what the other one is doing wrong while justifying their own preferences, attitudes, and ways of doing things. … From our standpoint, therefore, misunderstandings, conflicts, personality differences, and even angry quarrels are not the assassins of love; self-justification is." There is a lot of truth in it.
During His ministry, Jesus met many people who justified and exalted themselves above others. They thought they would never do anything wrong it is always the others. As Jesus was winding down his ministry, Jesus had a few choice words for those who thought they were right in their own eyes. What is the standard of righteousness? Who decides who is right and who is wrong? Who can be made right with God? Our passage will answer some of these questions.
Last week we learned that Jesus was leaving the region of Galilee for one last time and heading toward Jerusalem to complete His final mission. Along the way, he did some sequential things. He spoke about the Coming of the Kingdom of God. We embrace God's Kingdom that has invaded our lives and live accordingly rather than fixate on the one yet to come.
After that, He shares two parables on Prayer. One was about a persistent widow who never gave up knocking on the door of an ungodly judge until she got justice. Then he picked on those who were righteous in their own eyes. To address the dangerous traits of self-righteous attitudes among people, He told this parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
I. Prayer time in the temple
The Jewish people prayed morning, afternoon, and evening in the temple. People could also go to the temple at any time for private Prayer. It was prayer time in the temple, and two men went up to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised Tax Collector. They were not just two individuals but represented two broad people groups: Pharisees and Tax Collectors.
The Pharisees: Were an influential religious sect within Judaism during Christ and the early Church. They were known for emphasizing personal piety. Some Pharisees hated anything Roman, including taxation and Jews who served as tax collectors. They were unwelcomed.
The Tax Collectors: These were Jews who worked for the hated Romans. They were seen as traitors to their own fellow citizens. Somehow the Pharisee and the Tax Collector went to the temple to pray simultaneously. Perhaps the Pharisee wanted to announce in everyone's hearing how good he was. The tax collector went to confess his sin and beg for mercy.
II. The prayers of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
The Prayer of the Pharisee. Interestingly, Jesus points out how the Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this Prayer to himself. It's an image of the self-sufficiency found in his Prayer. Like many of us, his Prayer begins with thanksgiving. Except his gratitude is based on his self-esteem, piety, and charity. He prayed a very lengthy prayer consisting of 35 words.
In his prolonged Prayer, he referenced himself five times. He categorically put himself above others, such as cheaters, sinners, adulterers, etc. He distinguished himself by saying I am certainly not like that tax collector! What gave him that superior edge over others, so he thought?
Fasting and giving were prescribed in the law. Jesus fasted at least on one occasion for 40 days and taught about fasting. Some Pharisees considered fasting a public exercise to display one's spirituality. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for such outward hypocritical fasting.
The Pharisee in our story "fasted twice a week, more than necessary. He gave what the law required, nothing more, but bragged about his giving. He must have thought he would score more brownie points before God with all he did. What can we learn from the Pharisee’s Prayer?
What are you bragging about when you come to Church to worship and pray? What self-righteous attitudes might you be carrying? Are you proud of all you do for God? Are you self-righteous and look down on others? God sees what is going on in your heart. Let's listen to the most heartfelt Prayer of the Tax Collector, containing only 11 words.
The Prayer of the Tax Collector. Jesus described the tax collector as "despised or hated." I could only imagine the demeanor of this Tax Collector. He was broken and could hardly lift his head toward heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, "O, God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner." We understand his remorse when we know his actions.
What does "beating one's chest in sorrow mean? There are two kinds of beatings of the chest. One type is worldly, which conveys pride and arrogance. Like the Basket Ball players often beat their chests when they score a three-pointer. The Biblical chest beating in sorrow expresses one's remorse and shame over the sins one committed. In the Bible, the chest or heart is considered the seat of sin. Two people prayed; who do you think went home Justified?
III. Who can be made right with God?
Let’s follow the logic of the scripture. First, Jesus talked about the Kingdom's coming, then addressed who would be accepted or rejected from entering it. In this parable, we see the characteristics of recipients and rejecters of the Kingdom most sharply defined.
The Pharisee was proud and self-righteous, whereas the tax collector was humble and remorseful over his sins. Ultimately, the tax collector's heartfelt Prayer made him right with God. Jesus said, “I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God.
For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” This parable begs the question, Who Can Be Made Right With God? It all depends not on our outward actions but on our inward attitudes. No matter where you pray, either in the Church or your private room, Prayer is a time for confession to get our hearts right with God.
In the parable, the Pharisee's self-righteous attitude and self-justifying mindset disqualified him from entering God’s Kingdom. The Tax Collector’s humble Prayer, “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner,” made him go home justified before God.
The scriptures tell us, “God looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise if anyone seeks God. But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not a single one!” (Psalm 53:2-3). Prophet Isaiah mourned, “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own.” Isaiah 53:6
Jesus the Good Shepherd, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36. In the parable of the lost sheep, how the shepherd rejoiced over his one lost sheep, Jesus said, “In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away! (Luke 15:7)
In the parable, the Pharisee was one of those who were righteous in their own eyes. The Tax collector was, on the other hand, like the lost sheep. With whom would you identify yourself this morning, the Pharisee or the Tax Collector? No matter who you are, we all have sinned and need God’s mercy and forgiveness. You would be bypassed and disappointed if you were like the Pharisee, full of pride and self-righteousness. But if you are like the humble tax collector in humility, cry out to God, “O God be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.” You will go home, justified before God. In other words, you will be made right with God.