The Comparison Game

Published 12:41 am Sunday, November 26, 2023

Comparisons can be instructive and memorable. Jesus often used comparisons in teaching. For example, he taught about two sons, two builders and two men who died, only one going to the “bosom of Abraham.” In Luke 18 he taught two parables that demonstrated important principles in prayer. Both feature comparisons that show us how to pray more effectively.

First, he told about an unjust judge. A widow in his circuit asked for relief. She, no doubt, felt helpless in that society. He didn’t care, believing she was a pest. But since she was persistent, he finally granted her request.

Jesus insisted the God of the universe isn’t unjust but delights in hearing the regular prayers of his people. This is one reason a simple prayer list is helpful for us, reminding us to be persistent in our supplications.

Email newsletter signup

The second parable moves from persistence to humility. Two men went to the temple to pray but note the contrast in their attitudes.

The Pharisee’s prayer announced to God how good he was!

“I fast twice a week and I tithe all I possess,” he boasted.

Both of these are worthy practices, but Jesus instructed us to do both privately so the God who sees in secret will bless us. In other words, we don’t do good in order to be praised by others.

The Pharisee proceeded to compare himself to his fellow prayer.

“I thank God I’m not like this tax collector,” he said. All Bible students know that tax collectors were despised in first-century Israel. They were native Jews who worked for the imperial Roman occupiers; thus, they were traitors, and most were cheaters. So, in contrast to the proud Pharisee, the tax collector was pretty low on the holiness scale.

But it occurred to me that most of us fall short in comparisons. A woman might say to her husband, “Jenny’s husband bought her a new car,” or a man might say to his wife, “You don’t cook like my mother did.” Or one might borrow from the old spiritual and say, “You don’t pray like Peter,” or “you don’t preach like Paul.”

None of us wins consistently in the comparison game!

But the tax collector refused any comparison when he humbled himself before the Lord.

He dared not even look toward heaven and begged God, “Be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Did God hear the prayers of both men? Of course. But Jesus declared that only one man prayed rightly. The lowly tax collector knew the heart of God and had the assurance his prayer was answered.

Another old spiritual declares, “Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”