(18:9-14) Jesus tells a parable for those who trust in themselves and treat others with contempt. How common is this disease! Note the necessary result of trusting in yourself: treating others with contempt. If you are confident in your own righteousness, then it necessarily leads to thinking less of others and their situation and righteousness. Note also the diagnostic: if I am tending to treat others with contempt, it is likely that the source of that is that I am trusting in myself and confident in my own righteousness. And the solution to both diseases? The gospel. For the gospel humbles us by declaring that we are sinners, and then lifts us by announcing that through faith we are righteous. We are thereby not trusting in ourselves or our own righteousness and therefore do not treat others with contempt.
Jesus’ parable illustrates this truth. The Pharisee, that supposed paragon of virtue, thinks well of himself. After the first word of his prayer (“God”), the rest of the prayer is all about himself (“I” is repeated over and over again). But by contrast the tax collector is humble: he beats his breast in self-denunciation and will not even lift his eyes to heaven, but asks that God has mercy on him a sinner. The great gospel truth is that the tax collector is the one who goes home justified before God! Therefore, humble yourself under God that in due course he will exalt you.
(18:15-17) By further illustration of this point, Jesus now utilizes the example of a child. While his disciples refused to even let infants come to Jesus, perhaps for fear of their disturbing quality, Jesus welcomes the children. “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” We must receive the kingdom of God like a child to even enter the kingdom. A child is characteristically trusting. Children are not innocent (ask any parent!). But a child is willing to take on faith the word of his or her parent. We similarly are to trust Jesus humbly, as a child.
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