To some who trusted in themselves and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told a story. There was a tax collector and a Pharisee and both went up to the temple to pray. The Pharisee stood apart and prayed to himself, “ God, I thank you that I am not an evil doer, robber, adulterer or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and tithe a tenth of everything I get” The tax collector stood at a distance and would not even look up to heaven and beat his chest saying “ God have mercy on me; a sinner” This man and not the other went home justified by God. For everyone who exalts themselves will be humbled and everyone who humbles themselves will be exalted. Luke 18: 9-14
They say that comparison is the thief of joy. Jesus directs this story at the sort of people whose security lies in being better than others by putting them lower down on the ladder. In Adelaide, our sorting tool is often, “ Which school did you go to?” The answer to that question crudely speaking helps us know where they fit in on the social ladder. Jesus actually uses a legal term here to describe the cleaning of the slate for the tax collector – there remains no more reason to condemn him, despite what the Pharisee thinks. This story may not be primarily about prayer but it is about how we approach God and speak to Him.
First, the two people have entirely different views of themselves. The Pharisee talks about himself –‘I’ five times. The tax collector once in the accusative- God have mercy on me.
Second, the two people have entirely different postures – the Pharisee is proud, owning every square inch of his territory , the Tax Collector is tentative, at a distance and downcast.
Third, the Pharisee clearly sees his own behaviour as his mode of rescue before God, the Tax Collector throws himself on God’s mercy for rescue.
In the Anglican services there is a prayer of humble access before taking communion which the author based on this same story of Jesus.
How we approach God is important in our prayers - not to be overlooked. What or who justifies us before God? What might condemn us? Humility is key to approaching God in prayer. He is not listening or answering our prayers because of our long list of personal achievements. We can only access God because of his mercy in settling the score of our sin through Jesus at the cross.