“Are you the preacher?” the voice asked over the phone.
“Yes, I am.” I replied. “Why do you ask?”
“A few weeks ago, I was a visitor in your church and heard your sermon. Could I ask a few questions?”
“Sure.” I said with a smile, expecting a compliment.
“You told a story of a woman receiving communion? What does that have to do with the Bible?”
I started to explain how stories are an excellent way to teach scripture when he cut me off —
“Actually, I thought your sermon was pathetic!” He then went on to tell me why. When I tried to explain further, he cut me off saying, “I don’t understand how you can justify what you do as preaching?”
At this point, my mouth turned dry and my whole body was beginning to shake. How dare this young man tell me I was pathetic? (That’s not what he said.) Who does he think he is?
With gritted teeth, I semi-politely told him there are other churches in the area and he should consider attending one.
Later that day I read this story told by Jesus: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Preacher and the other was a dishonest businessman. The proud Preacher stood by himself and prayed: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that businessman over there! For I never cheat, I don’t sin, I don’t commit adultery, I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ “But the businessman stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the preacher, returned home justified before God. For the proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored.” (Luke 18:9-14 occupations modernized)
If there was ever a famous parable about humility, this is it. The preacher is doing everything right. We should admire someone who consistently does what he is claiming. So why is Jesus giving him a hard time? The businessman was in church to confess a sin. Why is Jesus honoring him?
The temptation is to picture the preacher as secretly evil and the businessman as a nice guy who made a little mistake.
Don’t do that! Jesus is making an important point. Most of us become Christians by recognizing our sins and seeking forgiveness before God. We change our lifestyle and grow in faith. As we change, we also see more clearly the sins of our friends and coworkers. We want to offer guidance. “Why can’t they straighten out their lives and become more like me? Thank you God, I don’t make their mistakes.”
Did you catch it?
Comparing our lives to others may make us look a little better but not for long because the only comparison that ultimately matters is with God. With God, we always come up short.
A freshly painted white house stands out in most neighborhoods until it snows. Then, even the white paint looks pretty dull compared with the pure, freshly fallen snow.
We like to comfort ourselves that we are not thieves or drug dealers but we forget the more subtle sins of pride and neglecting others.
Then God’s truth hit me right between the eyes! I was the arrogant preacher in the story.
Someone called me, looking for answers. His criticism likely disguised a cry for help. Instead of listening and attempting to understand his underlying concerns, I became defensive and shut him out.
I was the one who needed God’s forgiveness. I was the preacher who needed to be humbled.
Two men began to pray. One was a businessman with a problem. The other, a preacher, considered one of the best in the community. The preacher compared himself with the businessman and thought he had arrived. The businessman compared himself with God and knew he was in deep trouble. Both were sinners but only one knew it: “For the proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored.”