To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
In this parable, the pharisee represents the whole human race. He represents the human race at the peak of their game, the peak of their strength, the peak of their soberness, the highest point of their lucidity. Men, in general, even when they do not mutually obey one specific law, they each seek to abide by their own code of conduct. And each try to do it so well to the point of proving how right their codes are and thus how righteous they are themselves by their own law.
Christ wasn’t saying that the Pharisee was lying in his prayer. The Pharisee did fast twice a week. He did give a tenth of all he got. But what the Pharisee didn’t realize was that he did those things only while he could. He didn’t do them in his mothers’ womb. And he surely will not be doing them when he becomes frail and needy in resources. Therefore, the law he sought to be justified by has already condemned him without him knowing it, because “the flesh is weak”. Men change their decisions according to fleshly circumstances. That’s what their natural instinct tell them to do. They become conditioned by experience.
With time, the Pharisee will have realized that it’s better to rely on the mercy of God because the law can’t guarantee him anything good but condemnation. He’s praying that prayer now, but tomorrow, tomorrow when he’s cornered with the circumstances of life, he’ll have to lay himself in the mercy of the judge in the hope of not suffering the full measure of the law.
Christ, on the cross, suffered the full measure of the law of sin and death for the whole world. He died. We who believe in him have acknowledged our death to the law of sin and death in Christ. We no longer try to do the things the law dictate in an attempt to be seen as righteous. Instead we do the things that grace is training us to do to manifest our joy, our hope, our peace, our new life, eternal life in Christ.
As Paul once said to Titus,
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14)
Of course we’re going to try to do things the right way. In the end, we’ll realize that there’s only one way, one right way: Christ Jesus. He’s our food, the bread of hope from above. He’s our drink, the wine, the water of life. He’s our shelter. He’s our clothing, our comfort in whatever the situation. He’s our companion, residing within our hearts to never leave us. He’s our advocate, knowing what our problems, knowing what need, channeling his joy, his peace, his life, his hope in us continuously. He’s our God, doing for us only what God can do, being life in us, to us. Blessed is your wonderful name, Lord, Amen.