DayBreaks for 10/19/16 – If You Do, Then You Aren’t
The famous actor Gregory Peck was once standing in line with a friend, waiting for a table in a crowded Los Angeles restaurant. They had been waiting for some time, the diners seemed to be taking their time eating and new tables weren’t opening up very fast. They weren’t even that close to the front of the line. Peck’s friend became impatient, and he said to Gregory Peck, “Why don’t you tell the maitre d’ who you are?” Gregory Peck responded with great wisdom. “No,” he said, “if you have to tell them who you are, then you aren’t.”
That’s a lesson that the Pharisee in our gospel reading apparently had never learned. His prayer, if it can be called that, is largely an advertisement for himself. He’s selling himself to God. Little wonder that Luke describes him in the way he does, “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself.” That’s a very apt description, isn’t it — he prayed with himself. He would have done better had he had Gregory Peck there to whisper in his ear that if he had to remind God who he was, then he wasn’t.
The tax collector, on the other hand, didn’t have to tell God who he was. He knew who he was and he knew that God knew who he was. His prayer is not an exercise in self-promotion, but a confession and a plea for mercy. He is not selling himself, but opening himself. And Jesus says, “It is this man who went home justified.” To be justified means to be declared “not guilty.” It means to be declared right. The tax collector is declared to be in the right relationship to God while the Pharisee, who is so certain of his own righteousness, is shown to be in the wrong relationship with God. He is not justified before the bar of God’s justice which is the court of ultimate consequence.
Let’s note, however, that all this doesn’t mean that the Pharisee was a bad person and the tax collector really a good person. There’s no suggestion of that in this parable. It flat out doesn’t say. But we do know that God loves the humble and resists the proud. We also know that Scripture says there is no such thing as a “good” person, so it’s a moot point. But, the contrast between these two couldn’t be clearer. Both were “bad” persons (as we all are biblically), but one of the bad ones had a right relationship with God and God was pleased to justify the humble man. Just because the Pharisee told God how great he was didn’t mean he was great or righteous. The Lord loves a penitent heart!
He’ll be glad to justify any of us…if we’re willing to admit who and what we are.
PRAYER: We are all great sinners, Lord. I’m thankful that you justify even people like me! And please keep us from being proud of any level of humility we may have. Thank you! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Copyright 2016 by Galen C. Dalrymple. All rights reserved.