“And He spoke this parable unto certain who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”
It’s a cancer of the soul that blinds one to his/her perilous condition.
Anyone who’s ever viewed the damage caused by termites can understand today’s Manna when viewed through spiritual eyes. Just as termites eat up the wood within a board, leaving its exterior looking good-as-new, so does self-righteous pride destroy one from within, leaving them as a “whitened sepulcher full of dead men’s bones” (Mt. 23:27a).
Outwardly, they appear very religious—yea, even “spiritual.”
But, inwardly, they are full of “all uncleanness, hypocrisy and iniquity” (Mt. 23:27b-28). Religiosity and adherence to rituals are their forte, making them proud of them humility and critical of others’ seeming spiritual inadequacy.
That’s why the unnamed Pharisee prayed as he did.
Even though it seems he prayed “with/to himself,” Jesus knew the “thoughts and intents of his heart” (Heb. 4:12) and knew the content of his prayer: “God, I thank you that I’m not as other men are” (v.11a).
Isn’t that a wonderful way to pray?
So haughty and condescending.
Then, he went on to name the type individuals of which he was thinking:
“Extortioners, unjust, adulterers” (v.11b).
Pretty sordid bunch, huh? And, if that wasn’t bad enough, he went ahead to inwardly point his finger at the low-life tax collector standing nearby and added “Or even as this publican” (v.11c)
And, if that wasn’t bad enough, he began to pat himself on the back:
“I fast twice a week and give tithes of all that I possess” (v.12).
God should have been pretty impressed, shouldn’t He?
In fact, Jesus basically said such an attitude made Him sick to His stomach. And, no matter how the pompous Pharisee assessed himself, in God’s estimation he went home unchanged and unjustified that day (v.14); or, another way to put it, without having God’s stamp of approval. And, when it’s all said and done, that’s the only One that will matter in the end.
Oh how insidious and pervasive the sin of pride! It was the original sin that led Adam and Eve to heed the tempter’s voice and throw caution to the wind that day in the Garden. It was what made Samson believe he could play with fire and not get burned. Woe to any of us who believe otherwise! Much better is remembering the poor publican’s prayer for mercy—for such a contrite, broken-hearted request always catches the Father’s ear and keeps us from becoming as the Pharisee was: Unclean, unforgiven and far from God.