We are firmly entrenched in the land of parables right now as the ongoing study of Luke continues. When I was far less mature, I used to strongly dislike when Jesus spoke in parables. It confused me. Why not just tell it to people straight? Why mask lessons and wisdom in a story? But as I’ve gotten older and developed the ability to think more deeply about the Bible, I’ve come to realize the genius of parables. Think about this. What are some of the best times you have with friends? It’s when everyone is sitting around sharing stories. It’s so much easier to command the attention of a group when you’re telling them all a story, and when a lesson comes attached to a story it’s far easier to remember than when someone simply tells us the lesson on its own. Think of the story of the prodigal son. It’s probably the most well-known parable and one that has directly led to countless salvations and returns to Christ. Would that have happened if the Bible simply said “Even if you leave God behind for a time and go act a fool, He still loves you and is waiting and watching to welcome you back to the family should you return”? That’s a great lesson, and a true one, but we don’t attach emotionally to lessons the same way we do to stories. Jesus knew this, and I believe that’s one of the reasons why he relied on parables as much as he did, so that people would have an emotional attachment to the lesson, thus meaning it’s something that would go not just to their head, but to their heart.
With all that said, I’ve really been enjoying parables a lot more lately. I picture Jesus telling these stories, everyone leaning in, paying attention as he masterfully crafted illustrations of God and God’s commandments and character into these tales. As you read the following parable, do so with the picture in your mind of Jesus standing in a room, surrounded by people, commanding their attention as he brought the following parable to them.
Luke 18:9-14 Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
There are so many warnings against being holier than thou and hypocritical in the Bible. I used to feel very removed from these warnings, like I’d never relate to them because it just wasn’t who I was to ever be a hypocrite. But, one thing I’ve come to realize is that this type of thing happens subconsciously sometimes. Sure, there are the overt hypocrites like Jesus talks about in his story here, but if you’re not careful, you can inwardly become just as bad. We are shockingly adept at thinking ourselves better than others. “I know I’ve got issues but at least I’m not a drug addict like that guy.” “That’s the fourth Sunday in a row that person asked for prayer. They need to get it together.” We talked recently about how comparison and being critical is such a swift path to the breaking of unity and the darkening of our own hearts, and that’s exactly what we see in this parable. Jesus is showing us that sincere communication between us and God is all that matters. What anyone else does in the church in a time of prayer shouldn’t matter to us. If we are focused on our own stuff with God then we won’t even notice things like the Pharisee noticed in this parable. Had he been truly communing with God in a personal, real way, the tax collector’s actions and presence wouldn’t have even been known to him.
If you’re in a great place with God, that’s awesome. I celebrate it and you should too. But we can all go deeper, there’s always improvements and progress to be made. Don’t ever get so complacent spiritually that you have time to look around and start letting judgments, comparisons, and criticisms to enter into your thought life. We need to be very careful not to get prideful in our faith.
Just a quick note here. One of the great things about doing such a long and in-depth study of a book of the Bible is that you find things you wouldn’t find otherwise. It was only a week or so ago when we saw Jesus use this same phrase from verse 14 (For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted) at a different time and place in the book of Luke. Repetition is a big deal in the Bible and I make it a rule for myself to really pay attention when things get repeated. Jesus is once again pointing out the importance of humility, but also the reward of true humility. Make every aspect of your life as little about you as possible. Your time with your kids isn’t about you being a good parent, it’s about your kids having a great time and feeling incredibly loved and supported. If we can remove ourselves from consideration, imagine how much room we give God to exalt us.
I love all of you. I hope everyone is doing good today and really experiencing the love of God. I’ve been feeling a really special connection to the Lord the past week or so, it’s been really nice. Lean into your relationship with him, it’s always the right decision.
If you need prayer or just need someone to talk to, please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It would be my pleasure to speak with you.