He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 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!’ 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.”
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What struck me this morning was what these men had in common: They both went UP to the temple to pray. We eavesdrop on their separate conversations with God. One perceived prayer as an opportunity to keep God informed of the value of his own skin. The other saw God as the only one who could save him from himself. The one who prayed "by himself" spent the time in prayer justifying himself. The one who prayed "standing at a distance" spent his time in prayer mourning the distance between himself and God and accepting the blame. He went down to his home having been lifted up closer to God. The other had nowhere to go but down.
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God, as we are going up and down, keep us all closer than we deserve. Amen.