We live in a culture that can be very critical and uses comparisons to set standards. We have media that celebrates what seems to be the perfect image. I have even seen magazines that compare people and show the best and the worst of people. It’s no wonder we all have poor self esteems; it is impossible to live up to those images and have a perfect body, perfect face, perfect hair, perfect life, perfect job, and perfect children living in a perfect home. Can you relate to what I’m saying? The human tendency to make up for our inferiority complex is to compare ourselves to someone who may be a “worse” person and say, “At least I’m not that!” Our parable for today looks at exactly why that kind of thinking is a flaw.
Jesus had just finished telling the parable of the persistent widow (which we looked at a few days ago) when he told this parable. He tells of a Pharisee who exalts himself before God and thanks God because he (the Pharisee) is such a wonderful person and is not a person like that tax collector. The tax collector comes humbly before God and says, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus then says the unthinkable; he tells the people that the tax collector is the one who walked away justified before God. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted,” (vs. 14b). Please keep in mind that we have a different view of the Pharisees. In Biblical times, they were highly respected, educated men; the tax collectors were also educated, but they were viewed as lowly crooks.
Jesus was warning us that the point of praying and coming before God wasn’t to make ourselves look good. God wants us to be honest about who we are because God doesn’t need a performance; He knows our hearts already! God loves us even with knowing all about us – the good and the bad. Ours prayers don’t need to become a self indulgent celebration of ourselves to feel justified before God. When we come before Him humbly knowing that we need Jesus as our savior, we are justified. There is danger in comparing ourselves to others because the only comparison that should be made is with God. He didn’t ask us to become like our neighbor; He asked us to become like Him.
Romans 12:1 says, “Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” God wants us to sacrifice our human nature and to lay aside our desires and follow Him in view of the mercy He has extended to us. I Corinthians 1:2 says, “…to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are called to live holy lives that reflect God’s work in us. Comparing ourselves to other humans before God is pointless because we are to use Him as our model.
I have to chuckle a little because it would be easy to look at the Pharisee’s prayer and say, “At least I don’t pray like that!” Isn’t that the same? It is so easy to compare ourselves to others. Saying, “I could never measure up to that!” when we look at others is actually very similar. It is still focusing on our own abilities to look right before God rather than trusting His work in our lives. No matter which way we compare ourselves to others, it is wrong! Unfortunately, it is so easy to do.
Are you looking to Christ for your justification, or are you trying to measure by human standards?