“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 about a woman in the hospital receiving communion? What does that have to do with teaching 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 was turning 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 politely told him there are other churches in the area and he should consider attending one. (Not wise!)
Later, I read a 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)
If there was ever a famous parable about humility, this is it. The preacher was doing everything right. Most of us would admire someone who could consistently do what this man was claiming. Why was Jesus giving him a hard time? The businessman was in church to confess a sin. Why was Jesus honoring him?
The temptation is to picture the businessman as merely a nice guy who made a mistake… Nope!
Jesus is making a critical point. Most of us become Christians by recognizing our sins and seeking forgiveness before God. We begin to change our lifestyle as we grow in faith. But, the danger is that as we change, we start comparing ourselves against the sins of our friends and coworkers. We decide to offer guidance to the poor lost sinners. “Why can’t they straighten out their lives and be more like me? Thank you God, I’m not like them.”
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.
For example: 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 subtler 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, looking for answers. His criticism very 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.
“Forgive me Lord.” I was the proud preacher who missed an excellent opportunity to help someone in need.
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 the businessman and the preacher were sinners but only one knew it… “
For the proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored.”