If you have not yet read part one, it can be found here; Help, I’m not sure how to pray – Part 1
We love to compare ourselves with others! Parents often compare us to our brothers, sisters and cousins. In Part 1, we reflected on the Parable of the Persistent Widow, which is a parable of contrast rather than comparison. In this parable, it is a person – the Pharisee – who is making the contrast between himself and the Tax Collector. And the result is not very good!
In Part 1 we also spoke about the need to pray with persistence, perseverance and patience. In this Parable, this time, Jesus is speaking about the attitude of heart we need to have when we approach God in prayer.
What is one of the things that mostly blocks us from God? Pride. Therefore humility is the first step that lead us towards God.
Points about the Parable
In this parable we have the extreme opposites – a Pharisee and a Tax Collector
The Pharisees belonged to a lay religious group who strictly kept the law, whilst the tax collector not only worked for the Romans – the enemies of the Jews – but also collected taxes from them and took even more than they were supposed to for themselves.
So the first thing that would have come to the mind of Jesus’ listeners when they hear this parable would have been that the “good guy” of the story is the Pharisee and not the tax collector.
In Luke’s gospel he often shows us how God turns our expectations upside down – a virgin becomes pregnant, the young son is used to teach the older son a lesson in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus is amazed at the great faith of the pagan Roman centurion, and so on.
“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, But the LORD looks at the heart” 1Sam. 16:7
As in the previous parable there’s an explanation. This time Jesus is addressing those who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.
1. How not to pray – Learn from the Pharisee
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘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.’ – Luke 18:10-1
Nowadays, as often happens, many people have a vision of life that completely excludes God from the picture whilst believing themselves to have everything under their own control.
The hope that people in the past put in God, we now put in education, technology, health and so on.
But the problem today is here; even many people who believe in God and are professing Christian still have a vision of life where they are at the center of everything – everything revolves around them, including God!
So therefore, even prayer is not directed towards God but only towards themselves. Prayer, rather than being like a window through which we see God, becomes like a mirror to focus on self– a sort of Spiritual Narcissism.
The Pharisee uses prayer as an examination of someone else’s conscience rather than of his own. How many times we feel good about ourselves because we are not doing what others are doing. But our standard should be Jesus, not other people.
The Pharisee looks down on others. We all do at times. But who would dare actually express it out loud to God? He goes with an attitude of arrogance in front of God.
Notice also how the Pharisee boasts about his giving of things, whilst he fails to give himself.
Maybe the only good thing about this Pharisee is that at least he was proud of his virtues – today many people are proud of their vices.
2. How to Pray – Learn from the Tax Collector
“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.’ Luke 18:!3
It takes a while for us to stop thinking we are God; to stop feeling like we are the best invention after pizza, and come to realise we are neither worse nor better than anyone else. Humility is seeing the truth of who we really are in front of God.
The Tax Collector enters the presence of God. For him prayer was not a mirror used to marvel at his achievements, but a window through which he understood two important truths:
the truth about who he is – not only someone who had sinned but a sinner in need of forgiveness.
the truth about who God is – holy (he hardly raises his head), but merciful (so he asks God for mercy).
His prayer is short but it does not mean he didn’t pray for long – it’s not how long your prayer is but who you are in front of God that counts.
The tax collector went home ‘justified’ (the verb is in the passive voice). It is God who forgives and transforms us as we co-operate with his grace and obey Him. That’s why the psalmist prays:
“Create in me a pure heart, O God “Psalm 51:10″
So as you approach God in prayer remember that He is waiting for you and He yearns to bless us. Besides the Scripture passage we have just read keep in mind the following verses too:
This is what the LORD says: “my eyes are drawn to the man of humble and contrite spirit.’ Isa 66:2
“Let us, then, have no fear in approaching the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace when we are in need of help” Heb. 4, 16