Two Lost Men
“You can rebel against God and be alienated from him either by breaking his rules or by keeping them diligently” (The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller).
Not long after Jesus relays the parable of the prodigal son, he finds himself in a similar group of men confidently discussing their own righteousness and patronizing everyone else. Like the comparison of the two sons, Jesus’ story revolves around two attitudes toward God as evidenced in their prayers.
The Pharisee, knowing he had diligently kept all the rules, puffs up his chest, walks up the temple stairs and offers a well-spoken prayer. However, his prayer orbits around him: thankfulness for his good works, how he is different, obedient, and even sacrificial. Jesus contrasts this prayer with that of a “sinner.” The tax collector, known by everyone as corrupt, didn’t approach the temple and wouldn’t even look up toward heaven, but beat his chest pleading for mercy.
Both parables depict two men—both alienated from God, but for different reasons. But only one man returns justified and exalted: the sinner. “For we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3.23). But we all get to choose: we can remain ignorant of our sin (like the older brother and the Pharisee) or we can admit our “right” living cannot save us.
If you’ve been living “rightly” out of your own efforts and have never cried out to Jesus for mercy, do so today.
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