top of page
  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Justified Before God

Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost


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 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.’


“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


Jesus told a parable “to some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.” (18:9)


Reminds me of the story of the Hindu priest, the Jewish rabbi, and the television evangelist. They were all in the same area when they were caught by a terrific thunderstorm. So, they went up to a farmhouse and asked for shelter. “This storm will be raging for hours,” the farmer told them. “You’d better stay here for the night. The only problem is, there’s only room enough for two of you. One of you will have to sleep in the barn.”


“I’ll be the one,” said the Hindu priest. “A little hardship is nothing to me.” So, he went out to the barn. A few minutes later there was a knock at the door. It was the Hindu. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but there is a cow in the barn. According to my religion, cows are sacred, and one must not intrude into their space.”


“Don’t worry,” said the rabbi. “Come on in. I’ll go sleep in the barn.” A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door. It was the rabbi. “I hate to be a bother,” he said, “but there is a pig in the barn. In my religion, pigs are considered unclean. It bothers me to share my sleeping quarters with a pig.”


“Oh, all right,” said the television evangelist, “I’ll go sleep in the barn.” A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door. It was the cow and the pig! 😊


That’s an old story, and it could be told on anyone we look down on. It’s been told on politicians and lawyers – and Pharisees probably told it on tax collectors.


“Two men went up to the temple to pray,” Jesus said, “one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evil-doers, 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 wouldn’t even look up to Heaven, but beat his breast and said ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’


“I tell you,” Jesus said, “that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.”


Two men went to the same temple. They went for the same reason: to pray. But their motive for prayer, and the results of their prayers, were worlds apart!


First of all, the Pharisee used prayer to talk about himself. Some manuscripts say he talked to himself! At any rate, the farthest thing from his mind was real communion with God. How sad! God’s great desire for us is that we’ll have close communion with Him. And if you dial the wrong area code, it doesn’t matter how accurate the other numbers are dialed, the phone call doesn’t reach the party you’re trying to call! And God wants to hear from us!


The Pharisee assumed that righteousness was something he did, something within his power to achieve. But the righteous people aren’t those who dutifully perform their religious duties; they are those who cling to the God of grace. The righteous people aren’t those who have mastered the rituals and the regulations; they are those who cast themselves on the love of God – not understanding how God could love them at all. The righteous go with God because they know they have no other way to go, not because they think they deserve to.


So, it’s not surprising that those “who were confident of their own righteousness” were also wrong in their attitudes toward their fellow human beings. Which made them useless for God’s work. Who would look for help from someone who “looked down” on them? Not me, that’s for sure!


You know, if you want to have a good, real relationship with someone, you have to maintain communication. When communication fades, so does the relationship. Our biggest problem isn’t that God has stopped listening to our prayers, but that we have stopped listening to God!


Like the man who lost his watch while working in an icehouse. He looked and looked for it, carefully raking through the sawdust, but he couldn’t find it. His fellow workers looked, but they couldn’t find it either. A little boy heard them talking about it and slipped into the icehouse. A few minutes later he came out with the watch. The men asked him, “How did you do that?” And the boy said, “I closed the door, lay down in the sawdust, and kept very still. Pretty soon, I heard the watch ticking.”


Often the question isn’t whether God is speaking, but whether we’re being still enough, and quiet enough, to hear Him. Maybe we need to pay attention to Psalm 46 when it says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”


The Pharisee didn’t go to the temple to enter into real communion with God. He went to parade his piety. He didn’t go to listen, but to make a speech!


Now the tax collector’s prayer was different, and it was effective. He was honest in bringing his needs to God. He knew he had come under the wrong power and influence. His loyalty to the Roman occupiers of his country had produced greed rather than good. He realized that he needed to put his life under a new power and a new influence. His ultimate loyalty could no longer be to Rome, but to God. So, he went to the temple to pray.


And his prayer came from his heart and went to God’s heart. He didn’t say much out loud; just, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” But, as Charles Spurgeon said, “You can draw near to God even though you cannot say a word. A prayer may be crystallized in a tear. A tear is enough water to float a desire to God.” I like that. “A tear is enough water to float a desire to God.”


The tax collector could only speak a few words and beat his breast, but God heard his prayer. Of course, God heard the Pharisee as well, but He couldn’t act on the Pharisee’s prayer because it wasn’t an honest sharing of his own need. The Pharisee didn’t focus on his own shortcomings, he focused on those of others, including the tax collector standing there praying. Some of us are prone to confess other’s sins rather than our own.


When we lived in Arlington, Virginia, I’d sometimes say to Pastor Wehmeyer after the service, “Boy, you really gave it to Carol today!” Of course, I was only kidding. And then he’d say, “No, no – I was talking to you!” of course, he was only kidding too. I think!? 😊


When we talk with God, we need to be totally honest. The Pharisee talked at God, not with God. He wasn’t honest in confessing his needs to God. We could put it this way:


The Pharisee placed his hope in his own virtue; the tax collector knew his hope was only in God. That’s why he “went home justified before God.”


What does it take to be right with God? Repentance – being sorry enough for our sins that we change. What’s the key to being justified before God? Jesus says it’s in pleading for mercy.


God’s ways are not man’s ways. The demand that Jesus’ parable puts on all of us is humility. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”


The only way to please God is to cast ourselves on His love. It’s God’s credential of grace that counts, not our credential of achievement. There’s no use wasting time thanking God that we’re not like the money-grabbing tax collector – nor like the self-righteous Pharisee. Rather, we must thank God that His mercy covers our sins; that His power strengthens our weakness; His light brightens our darkness; His grace makes us justified before God.


If that tax collector could be justified – counted right with God – accepted as His child – cleared of sin – so can all of us! Jesus’ story leaves us with no alternatives. So, we give ourselves over to God’s mercy, knowing that His grace will provide us more than we deserve – and even more than we can ask or think!


Because we come to God through Jesus, the sinners’ friend!


Amen.

2 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Count Our Blessings

Sunday Before Thanksgiving What are the things you associate most with Thanksgiving? Turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie? Family get-togethers? Football? A long weekend for just relaxing? Plenty of le

A Kingdom Work Ethic

Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according

Blessed Are We (Beautitudes)

All Saints Day Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for their

Comments


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page