“God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13)
There is a danger of giving the impression that we look down on other people in a superior attitude. This irked Jesus one day when He was amongst people like that. This moved Him to relate a parable, an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.
He told about two men who went to a place of worship to pray. One was very confident of his own righteousness and prayed about himself which meant that in actual fact he was only praying to himself. So, his prayer time got off to a bad start. He did not take a posture which suggested any degree of humility, rather he stood up and instead of praying he started to prate about himself.
What he said was mostly true, he thanked God that he was not like other men, he was not a thief, evildoer or adulterer. He was thankful that he was not like another man who he spotted at a distance in the temple. The other man was a tax-collector, most probably regarded as a swindler who charged more than he should and pocketed the balance.
Rather than being a swindler the proud Pharisee was able to say that he fasted twice a week and gave a tenth away of his income. Instead of impressing Jesus, his prayer was obnoxious, the sort of prayer God does not listen to.
Often when we pray, sin comes to mind as it did with this proud man. The snag was the sins that came to mind were only the sins of other people. He never once mentioned any sins he might have committed.
Standing at a distance was the tax-collector who gave the proud Pharisee several prompts and pointers to pray about. He was able to draw comparisons between him and the other man he looked down upon.
Jesus was looking around in the temple and he saw both men and he too drew comparisons. He noticed that the tax-collector was looking downcast, his posture indicated humility and he did not even raise his head as many others did in prayer. Possibly we say “let us bow our heads in prayer” unwittingly following this man’s example.
The tax-collector did not even put his hands together in a pious gesture but instead he beat his chest indicating agony of mind and said, “God have mercy on me a sinner!” An example of one of the short yet great prayers in scripture.
Have you ever wondered what might happen after our prayers come to an end? Do they end when we say “Amen?” Obviously not. They are assessed by God. Is our attitude right? Does our posture portray humility? What about our words, do we acknowledge that God is a God of mercy as the tax-collector did?
Verse 14 gives us the verdict of Jesus. It was the tax-collector who went home justified before God, rather than the Pharisee and the conclusion of the matter was. Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted”