Jesus told a parable one time about a Pharisee (super-religious guy) and a tax-collector (scum-of-the-earth). They both went to the Temple in Jerusalem to pray to God. The Pharisee thanked God that he was not as bad as other people. The Pharisee layed out all his religious deeds before God. It was like a bad interview where you can tell that the interviewee (in this case God) is wanting to say, “Is there a question that you wanted to ask?”
The dirtbag tax-collector approached his devotions in a very different manner. His physical deportment and the words he chose communicated humility. It is certainly possible to look downcast with a haughty heart. It is possible to say self-effacing words while being perfectly self-aggrandizing. That was not the case with this fictitious supplicant. His words and attitude aligned, and God heard his prayer.
The conclusion of the parable favors the tax-collector over the Pharisee. Pride is bad. Humility is good. Boasting against others is bad. Contrition is good. God will justify and exalt the humble and contrite person. God will condemn and abase the arrogant person. He said all this in the Old Testament (see Psalm 51:17).
There is much anti-clericalism floating around these days. That is not the lesson that Jesus was intending to teach. There were humble Pharisees (see Nicodemus in John 3). There were certainly arrogant tax-collectors. Tax-collectors were not hated without cause. The point is that we are to approach God in contrition over our own sins, not seeking to make our rotten apple look shinier because it doesn’t have a worm sticking out of it like the next guy’s.
Jason Kranzusch lives in Jackson, MS, attends St. Stephen’s Reformed Episcopal Church, and blogs at axegrinder. His likes include buffalo wings, basketball and blues music; he dislikes bad breath, gangsta rap, and the life of a cubicle zombie. This fall he begins his PhD program. He is thankful to God for helping him to devise various ways to combat noise pollution.