Luke 18 The Pharisee and the Tax CollectorIf there is a Scripture passage that has grown common through its preaching, it would be Yeshua's story about "The Pharisee and the Tax Collector." After all that attention, one would suppose the lesson had been learned if ever it could be.
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
When reading any story, most people identify with one of the characters more than the others. So, here is a pop quiz to ascertain our position on the learning curve: As we listen to "The Pharisee and the Tax Collector," which character grabs our empathy? Do we identify more with the proud, religious guy, or with the publican who could only humbly beat his breast while begging God's mercy?
Of all who have tread this globe, only one could claim perfect humility. Of course, any third-grade Sunday school student would correctly guess who that was. But if we further examine this familiar story, we might just gain a little more insight than demonstrated by that Sunday school answer.
First, let's identify that one truly humble person. Yes, the only one who could qualify as truly humble is Yeshua himself. While he was certainly born on this planet to humble circumstances, and while he associated with the dregs of Jewish society, and his closest friends were simple, common men, who was he really? Where did he come from?
We know from what he told us through his word that he shared heaven with the eternal, self-existent Father before time began. John 8:57-59 NASB So the Jews said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.
We also know that he created time and the material universe. John 1:1-3 ESV In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
With his unique credentials in mind, we must ask ourselves, did anyone born to a woman ever have less reason to be humble than Yeshua the Anointed of God? Yet, when the time came he was conceived in Mary's womb, and necessarily emptied himself of his divinity to be born a man-child. He grew up in a tradesman's home without the preparatory schooling necessary for a teacher, yet when he was only twelve years old his parents found him teaching the teachers in the temple. The word "precocious" doesn't even begin to apply.
Even in view of the eternal glory Yeshua enjoyed before his physical conception, mere human beings cannot imagine the magnitude of what he sacrificed, just becoming human, let alone the humble state to which he was born, because we have always been human. As if his life's circumstances weren't humbling enough, Yeshua's earthly ministry ended with humiliation, shame and agony of astronomical proportions.
What is even more remarkable is he could have ended his ordeal at any time and forgone his grand plan of human redemption, but he never hesitated beyond his prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. And even then he placed his Father's will ahead of his personal dread of the cosmic-level ordeal facing him.
So let's review the initial question. When we read Yeshua's parable of the Pharisee and the publican, with whom do we most closely identify? Compared to Yeshua's humility, is our identification with the humble publican even possible? Even if the adjective "humble" in any way applies to us, comparing it with that of our Savior would be like comparing a five-year-old's scribbling to Rembrandt's art.
Let us never be the least bit impressed, should we dare to venture any comparison between ourselves and our Savior. As followers of Christ, to think ourselves humble would be the ultimate arrogance.