He Jesus) also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ Luke 18:9-13 (NRSV)
Earlier in my ministry I took some kind of psychological test. I don’t remember any more what it was but one item showed that I was good at preaching forgiveness to others but not accepting it in my own life. One of the reasons no doubt was that I thought of myself as being better than other people. After all I was a pastor and pastors are next to God!!! I could stand in the pulpit and look down at the worshippers and preaching forgiveness to that bunch of sinners but since I was so good I didn’t need to hear it. Of all of Jesus parables that Jesus told the one above is the most convicting for me. It is easy for me to identify with the Pharisee because I have thought like him. But I am not the only one. In fact I think most Christians struggle with comparing themselves to those who do not live up to their standards. Even when we believe that we are humble we can fall into the trap of thanking God that we are humble and not like those other Christians who think of themselves as better than others. In doing so even in our humility we become like the Pharisee. The problem is that of our human sinful nature. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we are so much better than other people. That is why we begin our worship service following the example of the tax collector with the following confession. “Gracious God, have mercy on us. We confess that we have turned from you and given ourselves into the power of sin. We are truly sorry and humbly repent.” (ELW pg. 117) It is a weekly reminder that before our Lord Jesus Christ we are all sinners. No matter how good we think we are at the foot of the cross we are all equal, sinners in need of forgiveness.