Jesus taught using parables. Often. Sometimes they obscured truth from those who would not listen. Sometimes the point was clear. But something tells me that the selected listener did not hear even then. In at least one case, just in case his readers might miss Jesus’ point, Luke provides a clear statement of intent:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 ESV)
It is interesting that the one who ‘trusted in himself’ was a Pharisee – a religious man – one who had the reputation for being Godly. He had an external image that looked great that was well taken care of, but inside he was just as much a mess as the tax collector. Why do Christians so often play this “game” – pretending that they have everything together, even when they are before God himself! The truth will always become known.
Over the past months I’ve talked with a number of Christian leaders who struggle with this issue. The biggest problem we find is that when once you begin to pretend you also lose something – you have to deaden yourself to the truth of God’s wonderful grace. To admit we need Grace, like the Pharisee, is to admit we are really more like the tax collector.