The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector from Luke’s gospel is one of my favourite passages. It is so rich and yet so brief.
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14
One of the many things I wonder when I read this passage is why did the Pharisee come to the temple? It seems like he didn’t come to the temple to learn or to be affected by being reminded of who God is and what he has done for him. It seems like he came to the temple to let everyone know how awesome he is. It makes me think why do we come to church? I ask this because I think a lot of us approach church with a cool detachment. It is just something we do. So many of us come to church expecting to be entertained, much like going to stand up comedy or a concert. We sit passively by, not really engaging with the singing or the preaching unless it really hits us. Most of the time we leave unaffected not because God wasn’t speaking but because we have come to church with the wrong attitude, the attitude of a consumer not a worshiper. So let me ask you again why do you come to church? Or maybe a better question is, what is your attitude when you come to church? Do you come hungering and thirsting for God and his righteousness? Jesus says that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. That is, those who seek God will find their fill of him. But throughout the Bible God rejects the worship of those who are coming to him to be entertained or to have their own way of life confirmed. This is because they have not come to church to meet with him. But God fills those with joy who come desperate to hear from God. Are you coming to church desperate to hear from God and to be reminded of his grace and love or are you coming with a cool detachment just looking to be entertained? Here is the scary thing “Jesus says it is possible to come to church thinking that you want to meet with God, and leave believing you have done so, and all the time being self deceived.”* Why do you come to church? Is it because of a self centred reason like the Pharisee or is it because you are hungering and thirsting for the grace that God gives like the tax collector?
*Roy Clements, A Sting in the Tale (Nottingham: IVP, 1995), 100