But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
We move on to the second character in this short parable. The first was the pharisee; the second is the tax collector. It is fascinating that in the pharisee’s prayer, after trying to receive something from God through comparison and his own works, he didn’t actually ask for anything from God. Maybe Jesus left out his request all together as sign that if our hearts are focused on “I”—or if we come to God in pride—that even if we do ask for something, ultimately He opposes this in us, and there would’ve been no point in Jesus mentioning what the Pharisee was asking for in prayer.
The tax collector, the one who would’ve been opposed by most of his fellow humans in the city, is however highlighted as the one God listens to—not because he’s a tax collector but because he comes to God in humility.
This man could hardly lift his eyes in the temple; he simply beat his chest and cried out a passionate and simple request for God’s mercy. He didn’t come with excuses. He didn’t approach with works. He didn’t approach with comparison. He simply asked for grace. The pharisee approached from a position of heart that said I deserve your favor. But this tax collector approached him with the position of heart that said, “I deserve nothing because I am a sinner—so have mercy on me.”
This parable reveals what He desires from us. No one matches up to His glory. No one is good enough. But there is something in humility that recognizes both our shortcomings and at the same time recognizes God’s abundance. It is not that we need to have our heads down in despair or disgrace every Sunday. Jesus reveals firstly the position of our hearts for salvation, but also once that we are saved, our prayers should still have that same position of humility and simple request for grace and mercy. Humility accesses the grace that makes us fully alive.
Let’s follow the example of the tax collector and humble ourselves today, asking for His empowering grace to live fully alive for Jesus, to live for His glory, to live for His fame, to live to love others into His love.
// Pastor Josh Kelsey