The tax collector, a well-known sinner who knows his own need, stands far off asking for mercy. The Pharisee, a religious leader, forgets his own need, stands tall, boasts of his good deeds and takes pride in being better than others like the tax collector. What hypocrisy.[i] The leader’s behavior doesn’t match our belief that we all are lost and need God.
The Pharisee and those who trust in themselves for whom Jesus tells this parable are probably unaware that they are so off track and don’t intend to be here. Eugene Peterson wrote: “Hypocrisy is slow-growing. In its early stages it is difficult to detect. And that is why no one is conscious of becoming a hypocrite. … Distraction from intended good ends up as hypocrisy.”[ii]
Distraction. Distractions can be good, bad, or just busy. Distractions untethered can take us far afield such that we forget where we are and where we meant to be. We can end up trusting in ourselves rather than trusting God. We get overly self-confident and have contempt for others. It’s not intentional. Distracted, we can get so lost we think we are ok and in no need of help.
Contrasting proud Pharisee and humble tax collector, Jesus invites the wayward home. This story gives insight about being lost. It’s a word of truth in love, a grace to be received with gratitude, a way to be found. We receive such insights including through hearing scripture, directly in our prayer, and through interaction with others, both friends and strangers.
How is Jesus inviting with insight? How do you resemble the Pharisee? Where are you off track, caught up in pride or any kind of distraction? Pray humbly like the tax collector, not even knowing what’s missing. Through stories like this one, Jesus comes to us as the Good Shepherd searching off track for every lost sheep, searching to find and save.[iii]
[i] Eugene H. Peterson (2008) Tell It Slant: a conversation on the language of Jesus in his stories and prayers. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. p139.
[ii] Ibid, p140.
[iii] Luke 15:1-6
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