Luke 18:9 “He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.”
Dr. Aaron Lavender, Senior Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Kansas City, once explained that “Racial discrimination and segregation are born out of an attitude of superiority. A race that considers itself dominant claims the legal and moral right to discriminate against another race or group of people they consider to be inferior.” He then quoted Alveda King, granddaughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, on racism.
Racism springs from the lie that some human beings are ‘less than human’, a self-centered falsehood that corrupts our minds into believing that we are right to treat others in a way that we ourselves would never want to be treated.
Dr. Lavender and Alveda King, followers of Jesus Christ, echo His words in our verse for this week, where Jesus used this parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector to condemn racism.
Let’s break down this parable to understand the significance of its meaning for American culture today: “Jesus spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others” (verse 9). In this first verse, Jesus is calling out those in the culture who had, as Dr. Lavender and Alveda King say, a self-centered sense of superiority over another person. This is what has inflamed us all as we watch the video of Minneapolis police officer Chauvin mercilessly kneel on the neck of defenseless George Floyd to cause his death. We all feel the internal shame of a man be treated as less than human.
Jesus then goes on in his parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus within himself, ‘God, thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess’” (verses 10-12). The Pharisee thanks God that he is special when compared to others who openly violate his standard of righteousness, especially a tax collector who is nearby, also praying.
This is not to equate police officers with Pharisees, and citizens with tax collectors. This is to demonstrate how the Bible, and its central historical figure, Jesus Christ, make clear that racism, where one person or group of people think they are superior to others, and treat them as such, is sin and evil in God’s eyes.
What is fascinating is that Jesus chooses the characters in His parable at opposite ends of the culture. Pharisees, experts in the Law, were considered by the culture to be righteous, accepted by God and on their way to heaven. Tax collectors were viewed as outcasts, rejected by God and destined for hell because of their willful rebellion against the Law. In this parable, Jesus turns that perception on its head.
In verse 13, it’s tax collector’s turn: “The tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’”. The irony is stark. The one whom everyone already thinks is alienated from God is pleading with Him, grieving over his sin. The one whom everyone thinks knows God isn’t even heard when he prays (verse 11 says the Pharisee prayed “with himself”). What’s the morale of the parable that Jesus wants us all to learn and put into practice?
The secret revealed is in verse 14: “I tell you, this man (the tax collector) went down to his house justified (on his way to heaven, and in right standing with God) rather than the other (the Pharisee); for everyone who exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’”
for everyone who exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted
Jesus is telling us to humble ourselves to care for our neighbors – each other – for it is the sin of pride in yourself that is the root of racism.
Alveda King recently spoke words of wisdom to us on how Christians must respond: “Here in America we are in a season of repentance and revival. It is very important for spiritual leaders to lead the way in repentance and prayer; especially with the violence erupting out of Minneapolis spreading destruction across the country like wildfire. As members of one common race – the human race – we continue to fight this battle. As leaders, we must encourage people who are frightened and frustrated.
We must stand in solidarity and unity as one human race. We must reject the socially engineered concept that our skin colors and ethnicities divide us into racial groups. Martin Luther King preached love, not hate; peace, not violence; and universal brotherhood, not racism. ‘Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.’ Peace be still. Anchor with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The Evidence of Faith’s Substance – Article #404