Sunday 27 October 2019

Bible Book:

I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted (v. 14)

Luke 18:9-14 Sunday 27 October 2019

Psalm: Psalm 84


When Jesus introduced a Pharisee and a tax collector, his audience might have assumed the Pharisee would be the one to learn from. But we quickly see that this is no ordinary Pharisee. Rather than following the practices of Jewish law, he sets his own standards and praises himself for following them. For instance, he takes it upon himself to fast regularly and sees this as a great point in his favour.

Some have used this Pharisee to represent Judaism as a whole: he has become a vehicle to denounce Judaism as legalistic and lacking in mercy. But this could not be further from the truth. In fact this parable does not refer positively or negatively to the law or to Judaism. Instead Jesus deliberately describes an individual who is adding their own requirements to their faith and so wants to determine the way he can grow closer to God. In contrast the tax collector does not prescribe how he will be justified, but offers himself to God’s mercy.

In telling this parable today we could easily replace the Pharisee with a Christian figure. How often do we set ourselves tasks that we believe will make us closer to God? Setting ourselves some disciplines can be a useful thing to do. Jesus himself used the discipline of fasting in the desert and Christians have for a long time followed this example throughout Lent. If a religious act such as fasting will help our relationship with God then it can be a good thing. However, care needs to be taken with religious discipline that the attention is on God rather than the action, otherwise it can be too easy to feel superior to those who do not practice their faith in the same way.

By considering his own good deeds in relation to others, the Pharisee has built himself up and forgotten to compare himself to God. If he did he would realise how good God is in comparison to all of us. Indeed, the gap between us and God makes the difference between us and others seem tiny. None of us can close that gap by our own actions. It is only through God’s mercy that we can be justified.


To Ponder:

  • What spiritual disciplines are useful to you?
  • How do you compare yourself to other Christians?
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