The Invitation - Day 2

Luke 18:9-14

9 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 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.”

The juxtaposition of these two different kinds of prayers and these two men is a powerful illustration of what Jesus valued. This story tells us of a man with status who uses his faith and position within it to further his agenda and look pious to those who might follow him. The other is a scourge of his society, a compromiser, and involved in a hated profession for the occupying government in their land.

The Pharisees prayed in a way that others could see and hear. He prayed prayers that seemed almost offensive, touting what he perceived to be the blessings of God to his station and his position. He reminds others of the piousness and righteousness in which he lives; he does this not to help others grow in their faith and understanding of what God wants but to lift himself and his position above them. He calls out those who are easy to objectify as sinners, and he makes sure everyone knows he is not one of them.

But then we see the way the tax collector prays. He stands at a distance, understanding his sin and sinfulness. He begs for forgiveness and is genuinely repentant for what he does. His recognition of his sinfulness and honesty in God’s presence is a powerful lesson for us. His understanding that he NEEDS a savior makes his prayer utterly different than the prayer of the Pharisees. It is for no one but God, and his prayer speaks of an intimate relationship between him and God.

Jesus explains that it is the prayer of the sinner, not the prayer of the righteous, that God hears and acts upon. He states that the sinner went home justified before God.

What does this mean?

It means that God heard the repentant heart of the tax collector. His prayers weren’t for a position; they were not for his self-aggrandizement. Instead, they were heartfelt pleas to someone who knew they were wrong and needed God’s forgiveness.

When you study with someone searching for God, that search often begins with the understanding that something more is needed in their lives. This “something more” is often the desire to feel complete and whole and to assemble the pieces of their disparate lives. When they realize that there is a God who can do this for them, and this God profoundly desires a connection to them, they know that the prayers people of true faith pray are heartfelt admonitions sent to a loving God.

As we journey with those coming to this realization, our job is to remind them that it was the tax collector, the sinner, not the righteous Pharisee, that God was pleased with that day. We remind them that we are all sinners searching for the connection God offers us, and we have to be honest with God, and God will be confirmed with us as well.

What do your prayers sound like? Like the Pharisees or the Tax Collector?
Have you ever taught someone to pray?
What would you tell them if you taught them to pray this week?
How can we ensure our prayers are like the prayers of the Tax Collector?

By Pastor Timothy Gillespie

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