I’ve had this image on my desktop for a quite a while now. I preached on the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18 last spring. I had heard it preached in my church like in January, and right up through class today, I still had a lot of questions about the story.
The situation is: 2 men come to pray in the temple. One leaves justified and the other doesn’t. I was bothered that only 1 did, and that it wasn’t the one I was relating to. See, the Pharisee comes up and stands by himself and prays what I heard as an honest prayer– “God, I thank you that I’m not an adulterer” and basically– I do my best to follow you. And I do thank God that I’m not an adulterer, and I do do my best to be a good Christian. So I didn’t see anything wrong with his prayer.
What I realized when we studied this same passage in Luke class today was that it wasn’t the content of his prayer. It was his attitude.
See, his “presenting problem” (medical term for my med friends out there) was introduced at the beginning of the story in Luke 18:9. The Pharisees had shown up confident in themselves that they were righteous because of all their religious activity (which wasn’t bad in and of itself, but they thought it was making them super-holy) and despising everyone else. They had a heart problem. It was a big one, and it was affecting everyone else around them. He had no love for those around him, and he didn’t need God to do anything to make his life more holy, he was doing fine by himself.
Contrastly, the sinner comes and stands by himself. He knows he can enter the temple. He knows he can draw near. He’s trusting in God’s love and grace. But there’s nothing of his own doing that brings him forward. He’s not bragging in front of everyone about how much he’s read or given to the church. And we see this condition of his heart in his prayer, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” He goes back home justified, set right, restored in relationship with God.
And it has made me wonder– what’s the diagnosis on my heart?