Pharisees and Tax Collectors

I remember sitting in Sunday School back home sometime around my freshman year in college. I remember talking about loving our enemies.

The teacher asked, directing the question at no one in particular, “Do you pray for your enemies?”

Immediately, a few particular people came to mind, and these people had really hurt me. (Christians who spent their time making me feel like scum and judging me for not being exactly like them.) As it turns out, I had been praying for them. I said, “Yes.”

The teacher, who has always believed me to be only a kind, lovely person, smiled and replied, “Carrie, you’re not really helping my example. When you pray for them, what do you pray?”

“I pray that they would see how wrong they are.”

Not that God would open all of our eyes and reveal His truth and His heart to us. Not that He would heal them that they may heal others and not harm them. Not that God would help them or bless them or fill their lives with hope and peace and love. None of that.

I wanted God, who can do anything, to show them that I was right and they were wrong. My prayers sounded exactly like those of a five year old.

Part of it was that I legitimately wanted them to learn that their actions were both unbiblical and hurting people. They intended to help God’s Kingdom but were actually having the opposite effect. But I think more than that, I wanted a heartfelt, genuine apology from them without having to make the first move in order to get one.

My deeper understanding of the situation and the hurt I felt led me to a place of bitterness, judgment (Isn’t that ironic?), and arrogance.

In Luke 18:9-14, we find Jesus talking to people who have rode in on their high horses. He tells them a parable of two men at the temple, one a Pharisee and one a tax collector. The Pharisee thanks God that he’s not like other people and tells God about all the things he does for Him. The tax collector, who couldn’t even bring himself to look up to heaven, asked God to be merciful to him, the sinner that he was. Jesus says in verse 14, “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” (NRSV).

If our prayers consist of comparing ourselves to others, they’re wrong from the start. God understands our hurt and all of the side effects of it, but it’s a different thing altogether to bring a third party into our relationship with Him.

No matter how much harm they’ve done to you, don’t look down on others; God loves them too. They’re made in His image too. Don’t judge them because they’re living their lives differently than you live yours.

It’s really a matter of getting over ourselves. We always hear about how God loves us; if He had a wallet, our pictures would be in it; if He had a fridge, our drawings and report cards would be up there for everyone to see. And it’s all true. It’s all incredibly true. But what we don’t think about is how God loves everyone that much. He loves the rude man at the DMV just as much, the stupid woman at work just as much, and the family member who is always on your case just as much. And He loves your enemies just as much as He loves you.

He doesn’t love them for the damage they do. He loves them in spite of it.

And before you get mad about it, remember that He loves you in spite of a lot of things you do. We’ve all thrown proverbial punches in our time. Remember that while it’s not fair, that we all have been thankful for how much God’s grace overrides fairness. To ask for fairness, we’d be giving up a lot that we actually want.

Your relationship with God regards only you and God. While He cares about our spats and cuts, He wants to heal and help, not play referee in the little games we create and find ourselves in. Praying for your enemies to prosper will change your outlook towards your enemy and possibly their outlook towards you. You’ll be leaving any vengeance and consequences up to God. We need to stop putting people down and stop looking down on them. Being hurt or being conceited doesn’t make someone better than anyone else.

By Carrie Prevette

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2 thoughts on “Pharisees and Tax Collectors

Add yours

  1. Great job Carrie!!!!!!
    I got a blessing reading this week
    I look forward to reading your page every week when I get it in e-mail
    Love you,
    Uncle David Pruitt.

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