9He told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were right with God and who looked down on everyone else. 10There were two men who went to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood and prayed: â€œGod, I thank you that I am not like other people, thieves, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and I tithe everything I earn. 13But the tax collector stood a long ways off and didn’t even want to lift his eyes toward heaven, but beat his breast, saying, â€œGod, be merciful to me. I’m a sinner. 14I tell you that he went home from there made right with God more than the other man. Because all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. — Luke 18:9-14
We human beings have a very strong urge to be special. I’m not saying this is unnatural. In fact, it is a very natural thing. We can’t occupy the same space, so we look for the best space for ourselves. Our parents have to divide their time between one child and another, so we look for the largest share of attention. An inheritance must be divided up. The whole thing can’t go to more than one person, so we jockey for first place. Only one team can win the ball game, and we want to be on that team.
In the verses preceding this passage, that I talked about last week, we heard about the unjust judge. A widow needs him to do something for her, yet he won’t do it. Finally he pesters her into doing it. Think a bit about why the unjust judge doesn’t just do it right away. In order to give the widow something, he has to take it from someone else. The unjust judge probably had friends, people who paid him, people who could help his career. He’d have to take something from them in order to give it to the widow. They wouldn’t like that. He didn’t want to do it.
Jesus contrasts his Father in heaven with that. Why shouldn’t you ask your Father in heaven for what you need? He wants to do good things for you, unlike the unjust judge.
And in case you missed the point in that parable, Luke lines up this one. Jesus was talking to some people who thought their good works were going to make them right with God. Now think about that for a moment. As soon as we start thinking we earn it, and depend on our own efforts to earn God’s love, we make his love just like human love. We treat it like it is a limited commodity and we have to compete for it.
But God’s love is not like that. His love is not limited. He can love me 24/7, and it won’t take any love from you. He can love the homeless man begging for food on the interstate off-ramp 24/7, and it doesn’t take anything away from the folks in the hospital down the street, or the nursing home, or living in Africa. God’s love isn’t a commodity. You can’t divide it up. You can’t use it up. You can’t buy it all up. You can’t sell out. God’s love just is.
So here comes the Pharisee trusting in his own works to be right with God. Surely he has paid his dues, done the work of the church, been charitable, and checked off every box. He’s going to remind God of that. â€œI’ve paid the price. Here I am.â€ The other one says, â€œI haven’t paid the price. I can’t pay the price.â€ And God doesn’t have to choose between them. He loves them both.
Now we’re not told what God did for either one. He might have done something to remove the self-sufficiency of the Pharisee. He might have encouraged the tax collector. Even though God loved them both, he’d have an easier time reaching the tax collector. Self-sufficiency makes it hard to learn, to get closer to God. You just keep on paying the price, even though God is just saying, â€œI love you! You’re my child.â€
Will you just let him love you this week?