Monday Reverb – 24October2022





A Tale of Two Prayers

Luke 18:9-14 (NRSV)


Charles Dicken’s classic story, A Tale of Two Cities, opens with, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” setting up a series of contrasts explored throughout the novel.  Today’s sermon can begin roughly the same way as we read about “A Tale of Two Prayers.”  We will find that comparisons can be both a blessing and a curse, the best of times, or the worst.  In Jesus’ teaching, he gives us a parable where a contrast is presented to invite us into the “best of times,” the righteous life that comes by grace.  But contained within the parable we are presented with another comparison.  This comparison comes to us by way of a Pharisee’s prayer, that ultimately leads to the “worst of times,” a life devoid of righteousness.

This parable follows on the heels of another parable Jesus tells of a persistent widow.  Both stories are being used by Jesus to teach about prayer.  But more importantly, what is being revealed is the character and heart of the one to whom we pray.  And that will be an especially important perspective to hold onto as we go through this second parable that serves as the text for today.  Otherwise, we may easily fall into the trap of doing exactly what the Pharisee does, measuring our righteousness by comparing ourselves to others.  Jesus is not trying to teach us to copy the tax collector and shun the PhariseeHe wants us to see who his Father is to whom we pray.  This will make all the difference in our prayers.   And it will also make all the difference in how we understand this Tale of Two Prayers.  Let’s dive in.

Parables often present a challenge to figure out what Jesus is trying to tell us.  But Luke does us a huge favor by telling us right up front why Jesus told this parable.


He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt. (Luke 18:9 NRSV)

Notice the “also” in this verse.  This is a reference to the other parable Jesus tells, of the persistent widow.  In that parable, we learn that God is not like the unjust judge in hearing our pleas.  Rather, God is a patient and just God who is quick to answer the prayers of those who call out to him.  Because of this, we are encouraged to “pray always and not to lose heart.”  So, again, in this parable we will want to keep an eye out for what Jesus is telling us about his Father.  Knowing who we are praying to will fittingly shape our prayers.

Notice to whom Jesus is directing this parable.  It is aimed at those who displayed two general orientations.

  • First, it is addressed to “some who trusted themselves that they were righteous” and
  • second, they “regarded others with contempt.”

Following Luke’s lead, we know specifically that this is referring to the religious rulers like the Pharisees.  But this does not mean we are exempt from hearing its message.  Let’s face it, we are constantly tempted to trust ourselves for our own righteousness, which always leads to holding others in contempt.  The two go hand-in-hand.  If we think righteousness comes by our own efforts and achievements, then we will always be tempted to verify and confirm that self-assessment by comparing ourselves to others.  There is always someone we can find that will make us feel justified in our self-achieved righteousness.

This is a trap we see all around us, and if we are honest, we see in our own hearts as well.  How many dividing lines between people are being drawn in order to claim being in the “right”?  We see it displayed in politics, personal choices, affiliations, where we live, what we wear, who we hang out with, where we shop and so on.  In our desire to be “righteous,” we can use just about anything to view another with contempt.  Seeing righteousness as something to achieve does not lead to “the best of times.”  Jesus wants us to see that he is the true source of all righteousnessSo, he is going to present his own comparison to do just that.

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. (Luke 18:10 NRSV)

We must proceed here with caution.  We are told from the beginning that this parable is for those who trust in themselves for their own righteousness and hold others in contempt.  Then Jesus gives us a straight-up comparison between a Pharisee and a tax collector.  If you have had even a brief exposure to Luke’s Gospel, you will know that the Pharisees are often portrayed as the enemies of Jesus while the tax collectors belong to Jesus’ circle of “friends.”  If we are not careful, we can convince ourselves that Jesus is giving us a playbook on who we should hold in contempt and who we should exaltThis would run counter to the very purpose Jesus is telling the parable.

We will do well to stand guard against hearing this comparison with a desire to pat ourselves on the back and pray our own self-congratulatory prayer of not being like that old self-righteous Pharisee.  We may try to sabotage the rest of the reading by having us use the tax-collector’s humble posture as another prideful means of self-attained righteousness.   So, let’s resist the temptation to form our own prayer that essentially goes, “Lord, I thank you that I’m not like other people: self-righteous, goody-two-shoes, super religious, or even like this Pharisee.  I’m devoid of pride; I’m full of humility.”  With that caution, let’s continue.

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.” (Luke 18:11 NRSV)

Jesus lets us hear the prayer of the Pharisee, which displays a dependence on self and a contempt for others.

The first thing we observe is that the Pharisee isstanding by himselfin prayer.  Since the phrasing in Greek is confusing, there are a few ways to translate this phrase.

  • It could simply mean that he is quietly praying to himself.
  • Or it could mean he is praying to himself rather than to God.
  • Or lastly, it could be rendered as praying while centered on himself with a peripheral view to the tax collector.

Any of those renderings portrays the prayer as self-focused.  We do good to remember that our Lord taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father in heaven…”  This Pharisee does not pray in community as he is “standing by himself.”   There is no “our” in his address to God.   He sees himself as a lone ranger in prayer.  If he has anyone else in mind with his prayer, it is only by way of a contemptuous glance at a distant tax collector.  There is no connection to others in his view of prayer.

This exposes a view of God who many believe is also “standing by himself.”   Jesus, in his teaching to us on prayer, instructs us to begin by addressing his Father.

God is not alone, but rather exists for all eternity as a relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit.  To lose this understanding of God’s identity is to lose the essence of prayer.  Prayer is not some pious activity we do as individuals to give the appearance that we have a close relationship with God.  Prayer is a participation in that relationship.  We never pray alone.

To go further, by the Spirit, our prayers are united to Christ’s prayers.   He is our High Priest who prays for us and with us to the Father, all by the power of the Holy Spirit.  There is no such thing as Christian prayer offered alone while standing in isolation from God and others.   Prayer is communal.

The second thing we observe in the Pharisee’s prayer is that his thankfulness flows from “I am nots.”   Specifically, he is thankful that he is not like other people.  He looks around and sees all the sins and shortcomings of others and uses that as a baseline for his own righteousness.   This leads to the contempt he has for others.  He does not see his own sinfulness, and in so doing, creates a superiority over others.  He is deaf to the teachings of our Lord who taught his disciples to pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And do not bring us to the time of trial, but deliver us from the evil one.”  He has deceived himself with his self-justification that he is above all others and in need of nothing from God but his applause.

Furthermore, “I am not” prayer leads to settling for a righteousness that only rises above the observable sins of others.  Jesus offers much more.  He offers us his own righteousness.  How often do we settle by being thankful that at least we are not as bad as so-and-so?     Rather than being thankful for who we are not, we can be thankful for who we are becoming in Christ.  Jesus never told us to be better than others.  He told us to be perfect like his Father in heaven is perfect.  If you are going to compare yourself to another, that’s where you start.   Compare yourself with Christ, as he is the One we are growing up to be like.

Paul tells us we are to grow “to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).  This comparison not only will keep us from growing contemptuous of others, but it will give us much more to be thankful for.   What an amazing gift we are given in Christ.  And the key here to grasp is that his righteousness is a gift of grace to receive.  The Pharisee’s prayer seems to miss this vital point.

“I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” (Luke 18:12 NRSV)

We need to acknowledge that what the Pharisee states in his prayer is in itself a good thing.  Jesus was not denouncing fasting or tithing. It’s not what he is doing that is the problem, it is why he is doing it.   This prayer indicates that the Pharisee sees righteousness as something to achieve by good works.  It’s on the basis of his fasting and tithing, along with a whole list of good things he could probably list, that he claims his righteousness.  The prayer leaves no room for receiving anything from God.  His prayer is a boast.  Once again, we are reminded that our Lord taught us to pray “hallowed be your name” not “our name.”

Now we come to the tax collector’s prayer.

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 18:13 NRSV)

We immediately see a contrast to the Pharisee’s prayer. The tax collector is “standing far off” rather than “standing by himself.” The tax collector knows he has no standing that even warrants coming close to the Temple. The Temple grounds gave many reminders that there are “outsiders” and “insiders.” This tax collector needed no reminder. He knew his sins made him an “outsider.” And to be clear, Jesus is not inviting us to praise the tax collector for his sins as if he is more enlightened than the Pharisee to be jumping through a bunch of pious hoops. No, the comparison we are to see is this tax collector knows he is a sinner and has nothing to offer in his defense. Unlike the Pharisee, he is not trusting in himself to be righteous nor is he regarding others with contempt. He’s not looking down on others, rather he “would not even look up to heaven.” He is not self-justified by his works, rather he “was beating his breast,” which was a sign of repentance. He is not boasting of what he has achieved, rather he is pleading, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Notice how straightforward his plea for mercy is. He speaks directly to God, asking for mercy while acknowledging he is a sinner. He doesn’t reference the Pharisee or anyone else. This is a prayer fully relying on grace.

It would appear this tax collector knows something about God that the Pharisee does not. God is a God of grace. The Lord is not only just and quick to answer our cries as the persistent widow taught us, but he is full of mercy, longsuffering, and forgiveness. This is the only way the tax collector can pray such a boldly humble prayer. He knows who he is praying to.

Jesus gives us this tale of two prayers so we too can come to know a little more of who his Father is. It is in knowing Jesus and his Father by the Spirit that we are given the “best of times.” We are given a share in God’s righteous relationship where our sins are forgiven and removed as far as east from west. This is what is offered in Jesus Christ. He does not leave us standing far off but moves to bring us into his kingdom. He doesn’t leave our eyes cast down but lifts us up in a face-to-face relationship with him. He answers the beating of our breast by forgiving us and giving us the beating of his heart. This is the gracious God revealed in Jesus Christ. And this Jesus concludes the parable with a direct statement for you and me to hear today.

I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14 NRSV)

Jesus is telling us not just what was given to “this man” but what is offered to every man and woman: his righteousness, the best of times for all eternity. And the man who went down to his home justified did not do so because of his prayer but on account of who he was praying to. Jesus is not giving us a new presentation of prayer that favors a humble posture over a pious one. He is inviting us to receive his grace. He freely takes our sins and in return gives us his righteousness. We don’t have to settle for our own exaltation. And that is something we will forever be thankful for.







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HOPE Avenue … Worship … UPward

FAITH Avenue … Discipleship (and Fellowship)  … INward

LOVE Avenue … Building Relationship … OUTward


Re: HOPE Avenue … the 3 ‘I’s (Intentional Preparation, Inclusive Gathering, Inspirational Sunday Service)


See the comments below …


John 4:10-14

10 Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’  11 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep.  Where do you get that living water?  12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’  13 Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’   


John 7:37-39 

37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me,  38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As[a] the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart[b] shall flow rivers of living water.”’  39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit,[c] because Jesus was not yet glorified.   










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