Religious and Righteous Prayer

Jesus contrasted religious and righteous prayer in a parable in Luke 18:9-14.  When his disciples were curious why He spoke to people in parables (Matthew 13:10), Jesus answered in two different ways, first (Matthew 13:11, 12 NET):

You have been given the opportunity to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but they have not.  For whoever has will be given more, and will have an abundance.  But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.

Usually, Jesus’ disciples asked for, and received, further explanation what the parables meant.  Jesus continued (Matthew 13:13-15 NET):

For this reason I speak to them in parables (παραβολαῖς, a form of παραβολή)[1]: Although they see they do not see, and although they hear they do not hear nor do they understand.  And concerning them the prophecy of Isaiah[2] is fulfilled that says: ‘You will listen carefully yet will never understand, you will look closely yet will never comprehend.  For the heart of this people has become dull; they are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes, so that they would not see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.

So a parable, without an explanation, was deliberately designed to be cryptic, its actual meaning hidden beneath something obvious—Although they see they do not see, and although they hear they do not hear—but misleading—nor do they understand.  Here is the parable (Luke 18:9-14 NET):

Jesus also told this parable to some who were confident (πεποιθότας, a form of πείθω)[3] that they were righteous (δίκαιοι, a form of δίκαιος)[4] and looked down on everyone else.  “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: extortionists, unrighteous (ἄδικοι, a form of ἄδικος)[5] people, adulterers (μοιχοί, a form of μοιχός)[6] – or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’  The tax collector, however, stood far off and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am!’  I tell you that this man went down to his home justified (δεδικαιωμένος, a form of δικαιόω)[7] rather than the Pharisee.  For everyone who exalts (ὑψῶν, a form of ὑψόω)[8] himself will be humbled (ταπεινωθήσεται, a form of ταπεινόω),[9] but he who humbles (ταπεινῶν, another form of ταπεινόω) himself will be exalted (ὑψωθήσεται, another form of ὑψόω).”

As I understand it some Pharisees looked down on tax collectors because the latter supported (and profited from supporting) Gentile sinners, the Roman government, by collecting (and sometimes, extorting) money from the god-fearing of Israel.  Many Pharisees viewed Roman rule as illegitimate and believed that Messiah was coming soon to set things right.

What I now call my religious mind helped me misunderstand this parable for years.    Obviously, I hope what I think now shares in the mind of Christ,[10] but had you asked me then I probably would have assured you that what I now call my religious mind was the mind of Christ.  Bible study can be like that.  At the end of the book of JudgesIn those days Israel had no king; Each man did what he considered to be right[11]—I assumed that God wanted Israel to have a king and the events described in the book of Judges were the reasons why.  When I read 1 Samuel 8 I had to rethink that assumption.  I’ll try to explain the difference between my religious mind and what I now think.

Luke 18:9-14 (NET)

My Religious Mind

Now

Jesus also told this parable to some who were confident that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else.

Luke 18:9 (NET)

This has nothing to do with me.  I’m not a hypocritical Pharisee but a follower of Jesus Christ. Faith is the key here: when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith (πίστιν, a form of πίστις)[12] on earth? (Luke 18:8b NET).  Childlike faith pays little heed to words.  It determines their meaning by actions.
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

Luke 18:10 (NET)

Yeah, I get it.  Pharisees were so wicked in Jesus’ sight that He even preferred tax collectors and prostitutes to Pharisees. In this parable Jesus contrasted two types of prayer.
The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: extortionists, unrighteous people, adulterers – or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’

Luke 18:11, 12 (NET)

Wow, I wish I were that good! The Pharisee’s confidence flowed from his adherence to God’s law and the precepts of his religion.  This is perhaps the essence of religion, my attempt to please God through my obedience to external norms or standards.  This is a religious prayer from a religious mind.
The tax collector, however, stood far off and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am!’

Luke 18:13 (NET)

Yeah, I remember what that felt like.  I don’t ever want to feel like that again. Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God.

Romans 3:19 (NET)

I tell you that this man went down to his home justified  rather than the Pharisee.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:14 (NET)

So, Jesus wants me to be obedient like the Pharisee, so I can pray like the Pharisee.  He just wants me to be more humble about it, and not disparage those who are less righteous than I. For no one is declared righteous (δικαιωθήσεται, a form of δικαιόω) before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20 NET).  The tax collector prayed the righteous prayer because afterward Jesus justified (δεδικαιωμένος, a form of δικαιόω) him, or declared him righteous (δικαιωθήσεται, a form of δικαιόω).

What shall we say then?  Is there injustice (ἀδικία)[13] with God?  Absolutely not!  For he says to Moses: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”  So then, it does not depend on human desire or exertion, but on God who shows mercy.[14]

 


[14] Romans 9:14-16 (NET)

23 thoughts on “Religious and Righteous Prayer

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