How not to say thank you. An unusual topic for Day 11 of 30 Days of Thankful. Is it possible to offend God with the way we thank Him? Apparently so—if our “thank you” comes from a self-righteous heart. Jesus told this story to a group of religious leaders who were confident in their own “goodness” and scorned everyone else:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get. ’“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:10-13).
The two men couldn’t have been more different. The Pharisee was well-bred, well-educated, and well-off. He had an impressive religious pedigree. He had arrived. The tax-collector, on the other hand, was a loser. To the Jews, he was an object of scorn–a pagan Gentile. A sinner, and easy to despise. He had no social standing, no prestige, and probably not many friends. Then as now—nobody much likes a tax collector.
At first glance, it looks like the Pharisee is thanking God for his many blessings. But a closer look lets us in on the real truth. His “prayer of thanks” was just a way to boast that he wasn’t like the “evildoers.” He probably spoke loudly enough for the tax collector to hear him. Then, his “thanks” to God was just an announcement of his own righteousness–a reminder to everyone in his hearing that he fasted and tithed.
The Greek translation of this passage sheds even more light on the true nature of this man’s prayer: “The Pharisee stood and prayed like this to himself” (Luke 18:11 MOUNCE). To himself. Did you catch that? The Pharisee’s prayer went no further than himself.
But the tax collector was stricken at his own sinfulness. He stood at a distance—not even daring to look to heaven as he uttered, “God have mercy on me, a sinner” (v. 13).
Jesus spells it out plainly: The tax collector, not the Pharisee, went home justified—righteous before God. His prayers were heard.
A few reminders as we develop a thankful heart:
- True thankfulness is always accompanied by humility.
- None of our acts of righteousness will ever make us righteous in God’s sight—we all need grace and mercy, just like the tax collector.
- The ground at the foot of the cross is level.