February 22, Sunday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Lk. 18:9-14: 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.”

Some comedians make fun of personal injury lawyers, usually capitalizing on their reputation as an “ambulance chaser.”  But during Jesus’ time, the tax collectors were held in even lower regard because they, while collecting taxes for the hated Romans, extorted money from people.  For instance, Zacchaeus, “a chief tax collector,” was wealthy because he was very good at it.

On the opposite side of the moral spectrum were the Pharisees, Israel’s religious and civil leaders, whose very name means the “separated ones,” but from what?  They not only separated themselves from “sins,” but even those who committed them because the Pharisees’ impeccable compliance to God’s laws made them feel superior.  As a result, anyone trying to speak into their lives was categorically rejected.   They said to the temple guards, who were impressed by the way Jesus spoke, “Has any of . . . the Pharisees believed in him?  No!  But this mob knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them” (Jn. 7:49).  When the formerly blind man insisted that the one who healed him had to be from God, the Pharisees replied, “‘How dare you lecture us!’  And they threw him out” (9:34).

Now, Jesus was a problem to both groups: to the formally trained Pharisees, hearing people say, “No one ever spoke the way [Jesus] does” (46), was threatening since he had “never studied” (7:15 NKJV) formally.  The tax collectors were threatened by Jesus because he agreed with John the Baptist who once said to them, “Don’t collect any more than you are required to” (Lk. 3:13).  So, to accept Jesus and His teaching, the Pharisees first had to swallow their pride; but instead, they tried to impugn his character (by saying he was “of Beelzebub”).   The tax collectors, on the other hand, had to repent of their greed, meaning no longer extort people.  And some did, like Zacchaeus who declared, “Now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and . . .  I will pay back four times the amount” (Lk. 19:8).  In response, Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this man. . . . For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (9-10).

Generally, it isn’t too hard for the impious to see how far they’ve veered off from God; but the real challenge comes thereafter because while we don’t need to change ourselves to be saved, a changed life must proceed after encountering Christ.   And there is also hope for people like the Pharisees: Joseph of Arimathea (Mk. 15:43) and Nicodemus (Jn. 3:1), both members of the powerful Jewish ruling council, saw that they were no different from the tax collectors; as a result, they embraced Jesus as the One who came to save the lost.  So, which one of these two do you identify with? It doesn’t matter because the way to Christ is the same: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 60

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