“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’” Luke 18:9-14
There are several dichotomies in this parable: a Pharisee, regarded in public as straight laced and righteous, versus a tax collector, seen as a swindling greedy cheat. Both stood before God praying, but one haughtily held his chin up, the other could not lift his eyes to heaven. The Pharisee is strong and stuffed with ‘thanksgiving’ while the tax collector is weak and begging for mercy. Surface perceptions betray a stranger truth. The religious expert, seemingly beckoning God, is actually focused on those around him, his eyes a-glance at the ‘scum’ around and beneath him. With strutting self-acclaim, he boasts for his human audience, not the Lord who hears earnest prayer, elevating himself above the other men by naming why he should be favored and exalted. The tax collector, in contrast, has eyes only for God, and is self-deprecating against His highness and holiness. One expects God to marvel and coo, the other pleads for God’s gracious mercy. One is convinced he deserves God’s applause, the other knows he is an unworthy sinner. And Jesus exalts the humble.
When we live for a worldly audience, we will choose all sorts of costumes for the parade: arrogance, achievement, who we know. But when we live and breathe for Jesus, He fills our vision, captures our imagination, and satisfies our longing soul- both Godward and outward.
How do we approach Almighty God and the opportunities He’s given? Are we flippant, arrogant to boast of good deeds and to strut our stuff? When praying aloud, do we inform or entertain our audience, or acknowledge God’s holy otherness? Would we approach each day on bended knee, fully aware that the throne room is opened only by Jesus’s blood, dependent and grateful for His grace, enthralled with the King of kings? Those who recognize the Holy One and approach in faith, seeking mercy, will be heard and met and lifted by Jesus. (Isaiah 6:1-8; Luke 18:35-43; Hebrews 4:16)
And before what audience do we live our day to day? If our motive is the favor of men, our actions distort with varied applause and shifting fancies. But if we seek first the Lord’s kingdom, and righteousness, and glory, others will see our good works and glorify God. Which will it be? (Matthew 5:16; 6:33; 1 Peter 2:12)
Father God, help me keep You as my audience of one, in all I pray and do. You alone are worthy of my heart, my trust, my praise.