As always, the passage can be read here.
Two short sections of scripture today and on the face of it they appear unconnected, but when we probe a little deeper, we find they are. There is a thread the runs through them (and tomorrow’s passage as well), it’s about how we enter the kingdom of God.
The first section is a parable about the prayers of two men; one a Pharisee, and therefore a man who would have been considered right with God, and the other a tax collector, a man who would have been considered a notorious sinner. The Pharisee listed all of the good things he was doing. It’s as if he has a contract with God, he has ticked all of the boxes so he must be right with God. A number of the translations say he prayed to himself. He was certainly praying about his favourite subject – himself, but God was not listening – what a terrible thought. I’ve been a Christian a very long time and in those years I’ve heard prayers like that as well as a few sermons – they’re all about the person praying or preaching. It’s easy to slip into it; we think we are serving God when it’s actually a means of making ourselves look good. God ignores those prayers and the sermons are cold and dead.
The tax collector on the other hand knew he was a sinner – that’s a good place to start. He knew too that his only hope was that God would have mercy on him. I love Daniel’s prayer in the Old Testament; “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy” (Daniel 9:18). God heard the tax collector’s prayer and Jesus said the man was ‘justified before God’.
In the second incident, the disciples intervened to prevent people bringing their babies to Jesus. Only Luke uses the word ‘brephos’ meaning babies for this incident. I understand the thinking of the disciples, Jesus was busy, ‘why should he waste his time with babies?’ Jesus rebuked them, Mark tells us Jesus was indignant (Mark 10:14). It shows us that Jesus cared for these babies (in ancient times, infant mortality rates were very high so babies had low status), he refused to allow the disciples to filter them out. Not only that, Jesus said these babies were a picture of how a person could approach God. Babies are helpless and dependant, and they mark a stark contrast to the Pharisee and his list of good works to illustrate his greatness.
“Who can sound the depths of mercy
In the Father heart of God?
For there is a Man of sorrows
Who for sinners shed his blood
He can heal the wounds of nations
He can wash the guilty clean
Because of Jesus, because of Jesus
Have mercy, Lord.” (Who can Sound the Depths of Sorrow – Graham Kendrick)