This story originally appeared at Baptist News Global on November 22, 2022.
Remember the parable where Jesus warned against thankfulness in corporate worship? It’s a well-known parable in Luke 18, the first in a trilogy of scenes that question our assumptions about status and blessing in relationship with others.
In the third scene, Jesus tells a rich ruler to “sell all you own and distribute the money to the poor.” But the rich ruler sees the blessing of his financial status as something he can’t give up in exchange for a lower status.
In the second scene, Jesus tells his disciples to “let the little children come to me.” According to the culture of the Roman Empire, babies were considered to have the lowest social status. So the disciples saw the blessing of their social status as male disciples as a sacralized excuse to “sternly order” the people not to bring their lower-status babies to Jesus.
In the first scene, Jesus tells a parable of two men going to the temple to pray. During their time of worship, one of them gives thanks, saying, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers or even like this tax collector.” The other worshiper stands at a distance, doesn’t presume to look up to the place of highest status, beats his breast and says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
Jesus responds by saying the second man is justified, while the first is not. He explains, “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Not random scenes
While these three stories may appear to be random scenes about Jesus’ life, they fit together thematically through their critique of hierarchy. Each story features men who see the world through the lens of hierarchy, with their position being over others. And at the end of each story, each of those men is confronted by Jesus.