In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus offers a second parable about prayer – we call it the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Again, I am not going to write about how to preach the parable, but want to provoke some thoughts for us as preachers in light of this parable.
1. The Gospel is shocking. The story of the two men going up to pray is not immediately understood because of cultural shifts and lack of biblical understanding. The Pharisee was not seen as “one of the bad guys that killed Jesus” and the Tax Collector was not someone looked at with a “soft spot … since another one gave us half our Christmas readings, and another one climbed trees to see Jesus.” The Tax Collector was a hated traitor, and the Pharisee was the model citizen. This makes the final verse shocking. This man, and not the other! We can so easily drift into a “nice” gospel where God’s benevolence is offered to decent people. Not so! We are all bankrupt before God and His offer of life is 100% undeserved. Let’s never lose the shock of the gospel in our own hearts as we preach it to others.
2. Pride is frightening. The Pharisee’s confidence was born out of his own performance. We easily fall into that too. A good week, a good sermon, a couple of encouragments and we can march boldly into prayer. We should be bold, but never based on our personal right to be confident. Our boast is all in Christ. Yet, if we listen to our prayers, do we find traces of the Pharisee’s pride? I am not like others…I do this and that…I go above and beyond what is required. Pride is frightening and it is often not hard to find it in people that preach. If anyone is a candidate to be a Pharisee today, it is probably you and me – educated, ethical, respected, maybe even impressive.
3. Brokenness is required. The Tax Collector’s brokenness is key to the parable. His posture, his clarity, his self-evaluation are all significant. He knew he was absolutely sinful and called himself “the sinner.” As such, he knew he brought nothing in his hands to God, but instead had to rely totally on the atoning mercy of God himself. The same is true for us. When we feel that in all its fullness, then maybe we are in a better place to preach a gospel that will not drift into evangelical pride and Pharisaism. Furthermore, maybe our churches will have a bit more reality in them too – the church is the place where sinners should be open and real about their brokenness. Is that true in the church culture your preaching has shaped?