The Pharisee & the Tax Collector
Don't think too highly of yourself.
"Yertle the Turtle" by Dr. Seuss.
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. Luke 18:14b (NIV)
Have you ever known someone who thought they were much better than everyone else and deserved special treatment? Dr. Seuss wrote a story about a turtle who was like that. Perhaps you have read the story. The title of the story is "Yertle the Turtle."
Yertle was ruler of a little pond on the island of Sala-ma-Sond. All of the turtles at the pond had everything they needed and were quite happy. They were happy, that is, until Yertle decided that his kingdom was too small. "I am ruler of all that I see, but I don't see enough. My throne is too low down" complained Yertle.
So Yertle lifted his hand and gave a command. He ordered nine turtles in the pond to stand on each other's backs so that they could become his new and higher throne. He climbed up onto the backs of the turtles and he had a wonderful view. But Yertle still wasn't satisfied. "Turtles! More turtles!" he called from his lofty throne, Yertle swelled with pride and feelings of importance as turtles from all over the pond came to climb on the stack of turtles which made up Yertle's throne.
At the very bottom of the stack was a plain and ordinary turtle named Mack. He struggled under the weight of all the turtles until finally, he decided that he had taken enough. That plain little turtle named Mack did a very plain little thing. He burped! His burp shook the throne and Yertle fell right into the mud! And now the great Yertle is King of the MUD.
When you think too highly of yourself, you often wind up taking a big fall, don't you?
In our Bible lesson today, Jesus tells a story about a man who thought he was better than everyone else. In the story that Jesus told, two men went to the temple to pray. One of the men was a Pharisee, a religious group that was very strict in obeying the law of Moses. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: "I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I’m certainly not like that tax collector over there! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of all my income."
The tax collector stood at a distance and would not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he bowed his head in sorrow, saying, "Oh God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner."
Now, which of these two prayers do you think was pleasing to God? You are right. The prayer of the tax collector. Jesus said, "The tax collector, not the Pharisee returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted."
When we are tempted to brag about ourselves, we need to remember that other people are not impressed -- and neither is God!
Dear Father, we pray that you would help us to remain humble so that we would not think more highly of ourselves than we ought. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.