Luke 18:1-17 (NIV)
The Parable of the Persistent Widow
1Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’ ”
6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13“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.’
“Two Went Up To The Temple To Pray”
Two went up to the Temple to pray.
Two went to pray? O, rather say,
One went to brag, the other to pray;
One stands up close and treads on high,
Where the other dare not level his eye;
One nearer to God’s altar trod,
The other to the altar’s God.
–English poet Richard Crashaw (1613-1649)
14“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
from Echoings: Meditations for Today.
by J. Ruth Stenerson
Different as their attitudes were, the Pharisee and the tax collector went to the temple for the same commendable reason. Both felt the desire to pray, and both knew where God had promised to meet those who would seek him. Both had something they wanted to say to God. And there the similarity between the two ends.
The Pharisee, deliberately separating himself from others—even other Pharisees—no doubt raised his eyes and held up his arms in the proper stance for prayer. He had been taught, at least by the example of the psalmists, that prayer should begin with thanksgiving. But it is rather hard to give thanks if all one wants to talk about is oneself, no? Perhaps he is a little abashed to say “I thank you, God, that I am generous, honest, and morally pure–as other people are not.” If he dare not claim those positive qualities, at least he need not plead guilty to the negative ones of greed, dishonesty or adultery. And surely he can safely claim not to be like that despised tax collector off on the fringes of the temple crowd. Why did the temple guard ever let him come inside?
In the days of Jesus, devout Pharisees usually fasted Mondays and Thursdays. The one in our story assures God he does his full duty in fasting, and gives his tithe—evidently on his gross income. His prayer ends very abruptly. There is nothing he wants to ask of God; he is only making a status report. His thanks is not for what God is, but praise for what he himself is. What more does he need from God? Only attention to his self-praise.
Perhaps this self-righteous man was hungry for the praise of others and got little of it. Those who in total self-absorption wait for the praises of others are often abrasive and super-critical of others, unwilling to give those around them the space to live. Because others refuse to feed their need for ego-reinforcement, they must sing their own praises, unable to understand why they are left standing by themselves.
The Pharisee goes home from his errand to the temple unsatisfied and unfulfilled. The tax collector, and not the Pharisee, was in the right with God when he went home. Sadly, the Pharisee probably didn’t even know why.
Lord, there is so much of the Pharisee in me. I would love to tell you, if I dared, all my good qualities which deserve praise. I long for your saving love to help me understand how threadbare my list of virtues is. Amen.
HERE is Ken Medema’s take on this story: “Mr. Simon.”
The Little Children and Jesus
15People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”