When I complained that a friend’s choices were leading her deeper into sin and how her actions affected me, the woman I prayed with weekly placed her hand over mine. “Let’s pray for all of us.”
I frowned. “All of us?”
“Yes,” she said. “Aren’t you the one who always says Jesus sets our standard of holiness, so we shouldn’t compare our sins to the sins of others?”
“That truth hurts a little,” I said, “but you’re right. My judgmental attitude and spiritual pride are no better or worse than her sins.”
“And by talking about your friend, we’re gossiping. So—”
“We’re sinning.” I lowered my head. “Please, pray for us.”
In Luke 18, Jesus shared a parable about two men approaching the temple to pray in very different ways (vv. 9–14). Like the Pharisee, we can become trapped in a circle of comparing ourselves to other people. We can boast about ourselves (vv. 11–12) and live as though we have the right to judge and the responsibility or the power to change others.
But when we look to Jesus as our example of holy living and encounter His goodness firsthand, like the tax collector, our desperate need for God’s grace is magnified (v. 13). As we experience the Lord’s loving compassion and forgiveness personally, we’ll be forever changed and empowered to expect and extend mercy, not condemnation, to others.
Lord, please keep us from falling into the trap of comparing ourselves to others. Mold us and make us more like You.
When we realize the depth of our need for mercy, we can more readily offer mercy to others.
The two characters in today’s parable have similarities and differences. The obvious similarity is that both the Pharisee and the tax collector went up to the temple to pray. They both had an idea of presenting themselves to God, of communicating and communing with Him. Each of their self-perceptions was influenced by their occupation or position in society. The Pharisees were meticulous rule-keepers, and by the law the Pharisee was likely righteous. Tax collectors were notorious for exploiting the populace and taking more than was rightly due.
The difference between them is that the Pharisee viewed himself in comparison to the tax collector, but the tax collector viewed himself in comparison to God. While the Pharisee thanked God that he was not like the tax collector and judged his standing by comparison, the tax collector did not ask to be made more like the Pharisee. He could only look down and ask for mercy.