This morning I was reading Luke 18 and the all-too-familiar parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. As we know from this story, two men went into the Temple for prayer…only one emerging with an answer. The turning point of the story is that the all knowing Pharisee was the one who found himself in the dark while the sinful tax collector emerged uplifted, as we all hope to be.
“The tax collector stood at a distance.” - NIV
At first glance, this parable is a little odd, at least to me. I find myself asking: Why would Jesus even find this story worth telling? Doesn’t our Lord beg us to draw near to Him? Isn’t God always encouraging prodigals to return home? Yes, it is a fact; the Lord’s invitation to intimacy is a reoccurring theme throughout scripture. Yet, in this parable, Jesus condemns the Pharisee’s familiarity with God and praises the tax collector’s distance. What is going on?
The solution is simple, and also a reoccurring theme throughout scripture: It is all about attitude. When we approach our heavenly Father, do we feel entitled to be there? Do we draw near to Him with anticipation of being rewarded for our good behavior? I read once that it is never wrong to feel comfortable in God’s presence, but on whose merit is He accepting us? Ours?
As believers, we probably do not take pride in ourselves the way that the Pharisee’s often did, but, we can become awfully casual about being in God’s presence. In this parable, I truly think that Jesus did not mean to teach us to keep our distance from God. Instead, He was hoping to remind us of the distance that, in fact, once was.
May we always remember two things: We are sinners. Christ is a Savior.