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A HIGHFALUTIN PHARISEE AND A TROUBLED TAX COLLECTOR
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A Highfalutin Pharisee and a Troubled Tax Collector
I can almost picture them there: two men in the temple proffering prayers. Yes, two men in the Treasured One’s temple. One was puffed up with pride; the other was dying inside.
The puffed up one was a Pharisee. All he kept talking about was me, Me, MEEE! And he stared up so high and mighty heavenward, thinking he’d be heard for his many pious words. His face beaming, He told God how grateful he felt that he wasn’t anywhere near as sinful as this terrible tax collector could be. Yup, thought the Pharisee, God was blessed to have a man such as he…a “righteous” dude…a stand-up fella…one you could always count on to give you a piece of his landmind.
He believed God needed people such as he. For wasn’t he such a perfect Pharisee? Sad, really. For his dead heart was even deader than his words. He was merely delivering lip service to get in good with the Man upstairs. He wasn’t worshiping in any way; he was merely boasting that fine, “religious” day. Anyway, he reminded God about all the man-made traditions he faithfully followed. He made no mention of God’s grace; you could tell by the pride on his face as he wallowed. He just knew there was no one as righteous as he—and certainly not this tax collector kneeling just inches away.
Then, we have the tax collector, who was hated by all, putting his hands in everyone’s pockets had been his life’s call. Yes, he counted his crimes to the LORD of love. Crimes against others, but especially against God. He knew he didn’t heed others as much as himself. Knew he’d treated terrible his mom and his dad, had brought tears to their eyes; had made them so sad. And he wondered as he prayed if God was listening to someone such as he, as he knelt there before God, having fallen at God’s feet. He couldn’t even look upward toward the Lofty One. His tears trailed his cheeks as his eyes were cast down. He was a sinner, beating his breast, begging the LORD to forgive him, and he would give Him his best!
And then there is God, sitting patiently, listening to a sorrowful sinner and a puffed-up Pharisee. Maybe God was thinking as He let His thoughts roam, “That Pharisee won’t see heaven; it will never be his home! His loose lips are spewing what’s in his hardened heart, for he cares nothing for anyone; it’s all about him from the start! A mouth speaking hypocrisy; eyes too blind to see!”
So, God rejected that Pharisee’s prayer and focused on the tax collector kneeling over there.
Now, here was a man after his Maker’s own heart. Such a man knows he’s a sinner; that he’s put the horse behind the cart. Why, just look at him there, just as humble as can be…so ashamed of himself, he can’t even look up at Me. Begging My forgiveness. Believing in Me. And how God was touched oh so tenderly by that tell-tale heart speaking so soulfully. He was holding nothing back, this tax collector. Yes, he humbled his heart, didn’t give God just some sectors. Here was a man who knew his position, that fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. How God’s heart must have pined for this precious man, who chose to kneel meekly and certainly not to stand before the Most High God and make some demands!
One merciful God!
One of those men got blessed that day. The other was shrugged and sent on his way. One felt he’d really told God about all his accomplishments and about how much he tithed. Meanwhile the tax man felt anything but pride. And that tax collector…well, he left the temple that terrific day, feeling forgiven for his fallen ways. He knew God had heard him—him, of all people! How happy his heart must have been…And how it had all been so simple. Just tell God the truth, and you can never go wrong. And in your heart God will place a very happy song.
And the Pharisee, he went on his own prideful way, not knowing how much he’d regret it one day. He felt entitled to enter the doors of heaven, not knowing his heart was lurking with leaven.
Jesus put if justly: “I tell you, this man (the terrible tax collector) went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14). Such is God…
The moral of this story is: God hears the hearts of the humble but rejects the prayers of the self-righteous who stumble. Yes, a humble heart is hard to find. But when God finds such a one, He clutches her or him and exclaims, “This one’s Mine!”
All Scriptural references taken from the NKJV Bible, 1985.
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