Luke 18:11-13 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get. But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me a sinner!'
When we speak of this text, often it is used as an occasion to talk about the danger of pride, or to speak about those who, by good works, think they can earn salvation. While these are valid points, there is something I think which is more to the heart of the text, and that is the virtue we call humility. And if there is a reason why we donít talk about humility is may be because it is easier to speak of what it is not, that to speak of what it is.
For me, what humility is not was long ago cemented in memory in the character of Uriah Heep in the Dickens novel, David Copperfield, who over and over again would claim how Ďumble he truly was. Ever since then it has seemed to me that anyone who claimed to be humble, probably was not. Because humility is not something you can claim for yourself, but is something others see.
You see, one of the ways we can talk about humility, is that you empty yourself of all your stuff, and that is in part contrary to the nature of the world. For while there are people who empty themselves, it is not usually something that we see done in faith and in hope Ė but rather something you see people doing in despair. They give it away because they donít believe they will ever use it again. They give it away because they do not plan on being here much longer. But such despair has nothing to do with humility.
There is however one excellent example of humility, and it is not the tax collector in our lesson, although he would not be a bad second choice Ė for the great example of humilty is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And we see his humility in this way:Phil 2:6-9 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name,
You see, humility is something that only comes from faith. Everywhere else, if you want to get up, you lift yourself up. And often to lift yourself up, you tear down others, using them as stepping stones to climb to the heights. So the Pharisee in our lesson, his prayer is, look what Iíve done for you God, because of all my good works, you really owe me.
So humility comes by faith which trusts Godís gracious promises. Humility comes to us as we follow our Savior, who has said to each of us:Matt 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Remember that 2 weeks ago we spoke of mercy, and how that also was something that comes by faith. For mercy is not receiving what we deserve, for we know we are sinners, and the wages of sin is death, and mercy says, although I am a sinner, and although I deserve to be punished, please spare we from what I have earned. So we learned that beg for mercy, we empty ourselves of all our merit, of any claim to have earned favor, and plead for something we need, but donít deserve.
Seeing our sins, and seeing what our sins deserve is humbling, it knocks us down, and perhaps that is part of the reason why God keeps saying over and over again:Proverbs 3:34 "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." And what is the greatest grace of all? Is it not the forgiveness of sins?
And that is why Jesus concludes the parable saying that while it may appear outwardly that the Pharisee, with all his good works, was righteous before God Ė it is not the Pharisee but rather the tax-collector who finds peace with God through the forgiveness of sins, not as something earned or deserved, but received as a gift, that is grace Ė and that grace is that God does not give what he deserves, but has mercy and forgives him his sins. And forgiven, he stands righteous before God, by grace through faith in Christ. How did he receive the gift of Godís mercy? Why, he emptied himself and any claim he might have thought to use, and appeared as a beggar asking for a handout, pleading for mercy. And that also is a good example of humility. For mercy is something that comes to us from God as surely as our daily bread.