More about Luke 18:9-14

  To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:  “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and prayed this about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
   “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
   “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  (Luke 18:9-14)

This is a great passage of scripture.  Not only does it teach a meaningful lesson on living in God's Kingdom, it also shows us the powerful way that Jesus used words.

The obvious lesson of the parable is summed up in v. 14.  Faith in the Kingdom of God is expressed in humility over sin, not in the pride of human piety.  This past Sunday morning we discussed the real danger of pride.  (We have been studying the Seven Deadly Sins for 6 weeks now.)  It was great to look at this passage and others that urge us to keep an honest estimation of ourselves in relationship to God, and to 'consider others better than ourselves.'

One very interesting part of this passage that I didn't have time to bring out on Sunday morning is found in verse 11 where it says, 'the Pharisee stood and prayed about himself...'  Notice that I emphasized the word 'about' in that sentence.  The grammar of this sentence in it's original language makes this word very poignant.  In fact the sentence has a double meaning.

You know how in Spanish, por que and porque mean why and because.  And when they are spoken they sound exactly the same.  When spoken, the Spanish words require context to distinguish between their meanings.  Well so it is with the 'about' in verse 11 of Luke 18.  The sentence does not give enough context clues to tell if it should most correctly read, 'the Pharisee stood and prayer about himself,' OR 'the Pharisee stood and prayed to himself.'

So to hear Jesus tell the story in His original context is to wrestle with the question, is Jesus condemning his pride in praying about himself or to himself?  And the answer seems to be BOTH.  For Jesus slyly equates the two.  An obsession with self in prayer is, in practice, the same as the idolatry of making one's self out to be god.

While we may not be as obvious as the Pharisee in Jesus' parable, in so many ways we can be obsessed with ourselves in our prayers.  I know that many times I get so caught up in what I need and want from God that my 'prayer' becomes as much centered on me as was the Pharisee's prayer centered on him.  And so I rob God of His rightful place in my worship life and put myself there instead.  And instead of being humbled by my sin and thankful for what I have already received from God (namely eternal life in His Kingdom), I pridefully ask for what I think I deserve from Him...

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner, and grant that I should learn to keep you in the center of my prayers and worship.  Have mercy on me Lord.


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