Read 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 a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I 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.” (NLT)
It is so hard to get out of our heads the idea that Christians are somehow better people than everyone else. So hard to convince others that this is not the case. But the notion is deeply ingrained: Christians are the ones who know it all and who are morally superior.
This notion is reinforced by groups that call themselves the ‘moral majority’, which suggests those who belong to such a group can boast about their morals. As an aside, this lobby group in the USA had a rather selective view of which morals are important!
What marks the Christian is not a sense of superiority but a recognition of brokenness and need for grace. Our passage reminds us that the ‘moral majority’ of Jesus’ day were out of touch with God. The broken-hearted ‘sinners’ were the ones who found acceptance. And yet it is so easy for us who inhabit churches regularly to assume the role of the Pharisee in the story even though we might intellectually realise he is not the model to follow.
After all, it was not the self-righteous Pharisees who turned the world upside down, it was the lowly and broken sinners who found mercy and hope in the teaching and example of Jesus. Today it will not be religious pride that wins the world but rather it will be humble penitence.