The most controversial part about this parable is that the Pharisee that prays his prayer of self-exaltation would receive much praise from many in today’s society. He’s not a thief, an evildoer, an adulterer, or a tax collector. He fasts twice a week and tithes regularly. For all intents and purposes, he is the law abiding, tax paying, 9-5 working, middle class citizen homeowner that drives a Prius because the environment matters. Contrast with the other guy who scams people for a living and is so ashamed, he can barely enter into the temple. Yet Jesus says the second guy is justified before God.
When I first became as a Christian I thought it was as simple as you stop sinning and you get into heaven. After a few years of trying my best not to sin I was absolutely miserable because every day was dependent on my performance and I was eventually abstaining from everything (both sinful and permissible). I dreaded the idea of having to wake up because it meant that I would enter a world of temptation that I’d be fighting all day long because if I didn’t I would go to hell. This led to me growing arrogant and judgmental of others that weren’t doing the same or that were struggling with sin. This lasted a few years until I fell into sin and I realized how desperately I needed to be covered by the blood of Jesus to be saved. The mistake I had made was not that I had fought sin but that I thought that my fighting of sin would be sufficient for my salvation. The irony is even when I was “abstaining from everything” I was probably still in sin, but my greater sin was the arrogance in thinking I could consecrate myself by my own performance. The point is this: whether you’re a law abiding citizen or a homeless man on the street – we are all sinners and in desperate need of forgiveness and need to be covered by the blood of Jesus to be justified.
God I pray that it all starts with you to work through me rather than me working to earn you. God I confess that in the past I was so arrogant to believe that I could do it on my own but through your humbling of me I’ve realized that you’re all that I need – so I pray that you may carry me to the end sanctifying me day by day to further reflect the image of your son Jesus Christ. Amen.