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.”
This devotional is brought to us by Joanne Tweedie a Leader in The Abbey. You can follow her work here.
SEEKING GOD’S KINGDOM ON OUR KNEES
Jesus told another parable—this one addressed to people who were confident in their self-righteousness and looked down on other people with disgust:
“Imagine two men walking up a road, going to the temple to pray. One of them is a Pharisee and the other is a despised tax collector. Once inside the temple, the Pharisee stands up and prays this prayer in honor of himself: “God, how I thank You that I am not on the same level as other people—crooks, cheaters, the sexually immoral—like this tax collector over here. Just look at me! I fast not once but twice a week, and I faithfully pay my tithes on every penny of income.” Over in the corner, the tax collector begins to pray, but he won’t even lift his eyes to heaven. He pounds on his chest in sorrow and says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
Now imagine these two men walking back down the road to their homes. Listen, it’s the tax collector who walks home clean before God, and not the Pharisee, because whoever lifts himself up will be put down and whoever takes a humble place will be lifted up.”
Luke 18:9-14 The Voice (VOICE)
Who is this Jesus to you? Perhaps you – like us – have fallen in love with the grace and passion of the Christ (anointed one). This Jesus who holds two worlds colliding within Him – Heaven & Earth, the divine and the human. But here in this parable we experience Jesus as Teacher (Rabboni), uncompromising in His message to help shape and grow the character of His disciples so that they truly know how to live in a way that will please God’s heart.
It’s not immediately clear which specific group of people Jesus is addressing when he tells this story. It could be his disciples, a group of religious leaders, a general crowd of people, or all of the above. What Luke tells us about who Jesus was speaking to is that they were people, who were confident in their self-righteousness and looked down on other people with disgust.
Ouch! Perhaps if we are honest with ourselves, we can count ourselves among the people Jesus was addressing here.
To illustrate this truth, Jesus tells us a story with two characters – a Pharisee and a Tax Collector.
While they were a frequent target of Jesus’, the Pharisees were well-regarded religious and spiritual leaders, men who knew the Scriptures and modeled their lives and their leadership around God’s precepts.
Tax Collectors, specifically this one who was Jewish (we know this because he was praying in the Temple), were despised because they worked for the Romans. To the Jews, the Romans were an oppressive empire, an occupying force. The Romans hired local men to levy taxes for them and these tax collectors often extracted greater sums than necessary so they could enrich themselves. Tax collectors were seen as betraying their own people by working for the enemy.
When Jesus begins his story about a Pharisee and a Tax Collector, his audience would most likely have assumed that the Pharisee is the good guy and Tax Collector is the bad guy. As Jesus describes this Pharisee’s posture and prayer in the Temple, he comes across as a model of success, a leader in his community who is fulfilling all that is asked of him and more. We see this in the declaration that he fasts not just once, but twice a week and gives generously at least a tenth of his income to the poor!
However, the indictment that Jesus makes is towards his character; while he might be outwardly generous, he has no real generosity of heart.
In contrast, Jesus paints a picture of a crushed and grieving tax collector. This man was seen to be the very least by the religious leaders of his time, but is the one who comes before God on his knees in true repentance. This man opens his heart up before God saying, God have mercy upon me. I am a sinner.
Jesus then points to the contrast between these two postures of prayer and says that it was the Tax Collector and not the Pharisee who walked away justified before God.
It is down upon his knees before God that the tax collector finds the freedom that he longs for. Just like the Kingdom of God where the last will be first, it is through our submission in the deeper places that we are often lifted up, not through our worth or doing, but through God’s mercy & grace.
The Pharisee’s sin is not his obedience, but his pride. His prayer is one that draws attention to his “good deeds” compared to all the other “sinners” out there. He draws a comparison between himself and his fellow man and determines that he’s better than all of them. He ranks his actions and his lifestyle, and determines he’s in the right and they are in the wrong. He draws lines around who’s in with God and who’s out.
But Jesus disrupts all those lines and points to the sinner slouched in the corner, beating his breast, and says this man and his posture of prayer is most pleasing to God.
Isn’t it so like our God to provide blessing upon blessing through the gateway of our confession? Through the power of his heartfelt confession the Tax Collector is given new standing before God, that of clean hands, and a pure heart. In verse 14 we hear Jesus say in conclusion that ‘those who exalt themselves will be humbled. And those who humble themselves will be exalted’. And so the Tax Collector was able to take the road home fully justified before God.
So, beautiful friend, perhaps today like the Pharisee & the Tax Collector before us Jesus is inviting you to do a search of the hidden places & motives of your heart. In Matthew 6:6 Jesus says:
Here’s what I want you to do. Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply & honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense His grace.
We are so blessed that The Abbey hosts a myriad of sacred tools to help us be still before our King. Perhaps for you this is our monthly meditation, lectio divina, creative contemplation, yoga flows or simply, a heart posture of worship. As we come before God just as the humble tax collector did as simply and honestly as we can manage, I wonder what God will find there:
Are we chasing things for our own glory or for His?
Are we doing our will or asking for His will be done?
Are we creating exclusion or inclusion with others?
Are we relying on our own strength or His?
Are we building our own castles or God’s Kingdom to come?
Friend, these questions are for me as much as you! And yet we know that where the spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. These questions come with no shame or condemnation but a desire to release us into greater calling, purpose and freedom. Into who we are made to be in Christ.
Sarah Jake Roberts talks about the process of transformation as the process of being broken down in order to be built back up, saying
“The lower we often go, the deeper the weight of the Lord is. The deeper we have been broken, the greater the foundations can be for the heights that God wants to take us. So there can be no-doubt that it is the grace of God that is on our side.”
This tension is so often the core of our Jesus-centered yoga practice where we open ourselves up to a fresh move of God’s spirit within us on the yoga mat. Prompting a deeper intersection with the Lord mind, body, soul & strength. God invites us into deeper places of intimacy with Him so we can experience the freedom & gifts of the deeper places. Perhaps this month you are seeking to grow your yoga practice, your yoga ministry, your influence, your resources, your vision, your future - whatever you are seeking ‘more’ of, your ‘more’ will be found in Christ alone. It is so opposite to the world’s logic but we know that outside of God there is nothing that will truly satisfy the ache within our soul to be truly known by Him.