Two men went to pray.

In Lent 24 by Bruce LogueLeave a Comment

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people… But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven…saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

Luke 18:9-14

Still on the subject of prayer, Jesus turns to the attitude we have when we pray, and he takes his lesson from a parable about two men praying in the Temple. One was a Pharisee. Pharisees were known for their certainty about matters of faith. They were the law-keepers, in charge of keeping fellow Jews on the straight-and-narrow path. And often, in the words of Jesus, full of hubris and hypocrisy. (Matthew 23)

When your confidence lies in law keeping, you either feel like a failure or you are very confident you are doing it right. So was the Pharisee of Jesus’ story. He was standing chest out, full of pride about how well he had obeyed the Law, and also very judgmental about others who weren’t keeping the Law as well as he believed he was.

Within the Pharisee’s line of sight was a tax collector, hated, hated, hated by the Jewish people because of collusion with the Roman government. Visions of the poor people, who he had overtaxed, played in his mind. He knew how badly he failed at being a God-follower, and that knowledge wracked his life with guilt. So he didn’t stand in a public place in the Temple. He collapsed in a private place where he begged for God’s mercy.

In Jesus’ parable, Jesus said, ‘I tell you; this tax collector went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’ You see, in the Kingdom of God, everything is topsy turvy; the first are last and the last are first. Just like in the temple scene.

Something to think about: In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus advises that our prayers should be lofted in our closet, in secret. (Matthew 6:5-6.) Why do you think Jesus gives this advice?

Something to pray about: Jesus, we know that many of your prayers were often uttered in isolated gardens and other deserted places. We pray that we will understand the wisdom of this and seek to pray without pretense or pride. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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