Jump Start # 3451
Luke 18:10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-collector.”
We are looking at the topic of prayer. In Luke 18, Jesus puts two prayer parables back to back. The first story is about a woman who would not give up. She needs help and a terrible judge finally gives her the protection she needs. The woman doesn’t pray. The judge wouldn’t pray. But it is in that atmosphere that Jesus wants his disciples to not give up on prayer. Our God is not like that judge. Our God wants to hear us. Our God sends blessings. Our God is good.
The second story is where our verse is found. Two men go to the temple to pray. They are very different. They would never be found in the same house eating together. They would not be friends. However, as different as they are, they are both in the temple praying. This was not a contest to see which one prayed the best.
Both prayers are short. The Pharisee’s prayer is 32 words. The tax-collector’s prayer is 7 words, one sentence. The topic Jesus is driving at isn’t really prayer. It’s the heart. One heart, the tax-collector, was honest, raw and humble. It was just he and the Lord. The Pharisee was looking around and even mentioned the tax-collector in his prayer. The tax-collector sought the mercy of God. The Pharisee bragged.
To the audience first hearing these words, the tax-collector would have been booed. Yet, he is the one who was the example to be followed. The Pharisee thought too much of himself. He thought too little of others. And, he really didn’t think at all about God. His prayer doesn’t ask God for anything. It doesn’t praise God. It’s just a pat on his back about how good he was.
First, both men were sinners, but only one recognized it. The tax-collector sought the mercy of God. He acknowledged that he was a sinner. He knew he wasn’t right. He didn’t blame anyone. He didn’t excuse his behavior. The Pharisee was just as lost, but he never realized it. By comparing himself to others, he thinks he is better than most. The list that he uses to compare himself includes swindlers, unjust, adulterers and this tax-collector. It’s like he pulled the trash out of the gutter. He doesn’t compare himself to a rabbi, a priest or a godly person. Knocking others down doesn’t make us stand any taller.
May our eyes be open to our own sins and failures. May we realize that because we assemble weekly to honor the Lord, that we are not better than those who do not. Self-righteousness runs thick through religious people.
Second, the tax-collector believed that there was hope, even for him. This is why he is praying. This is why he is in the temple. This is why he endured the stares, the whispers and the mumbling under the breath. Even the Pharisee used this tax-collector as a terrible example in his prayer, likely saying it loud enough that the tax-collector heard him.
The Jews hated tax-collectors. Money was being taken to support a government that controlled them. They were not independent nor free as long as Rome was in charge. And, when one of their own citizens helped collect those taxes for Rome, it was seen as being traitor. And, yet, our Lord chose a tax-collector to be one of the apostles.
There will be those who assemble with us who are not like us. They do not have the heritage, background or experience as we do. They may say the wrong words. They may dress differently. Colored hair, tattooed, and pierced, we can stand at a distance and be thankful that we are not like one of “them,” or we can be thankful that they too are seeking the Lord as we are. Together, we sing. Together, we pray. Together, we worship.
Third, it is possible that prayer falls flat. It did for this Pharisee in the Lord’s parable. That prayer didn’t help him. It didn’t honor the Lord. It did nothing. And, that ought to remind us that our prayers can be a waste of breath if our attitudes and intentions are not correct. Public prayer is not the avenue for someone to preach to the audience. You are talking to God. It is not necessary to quote Scriptures to God. He is the author and knows the word better than we do.
An old definition of prayer says, “Prayer is keeping company with God.” That’s a good reminder for us.
Two men went up to pray…but actually only one truly prayed.