Letting the Bible Read You

There’s this interesting story in the book of Luke that we can easily gloss over.

Letting the Bible Read You

In chapter 18, Jesus tells a short parable about a tax collector and a Pharisee. In the context of first century Israel, the Pharisee is part of the religious elite and the tax collector is a Jewish traitor, working for the enemy and extorting money from his own people.

In the parable the two men go to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee begins first thanking God that he isn’t a dirty, rotten sinner like the tax collector. He’s quite pleased with himself.

The tax collector, on the other hand, won’t look at heaven and can’t bring himself to be around other people. He merely utters the short prayer, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”

We read this story and conclude that God wants us to be humble and to not exalt ourselves and then we move on to other things. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but perhaps there is more to the story and more to what Luke says about the story itself.

Read the story if you have a moment, Luke 18:9-14. Now, let me ask you a question. With which character do you most identify? Are you closer to the Pharisee or the tax collector? Why?

If you’re like me you probably think something like, “Well, I’m not always the best guy, but I’m not like that Pharisee, I mean, I don’t look down my nose at people and don’t judge people and…” And about that point you start to realize that you sound kind of like someone in that story and it isn’t the tax collector.

I was at a conference about 15 years ago where theologian Stanley Grenz was teaching a seminar on reading the Bible. He used the exercise above with us and it just blew me away. His point, and I think the point of the story, and maybe the Bible as a whole, is that the Bible wasn’t given to us to merely mine for facts, morals, and ideas to which we can give our assent or ignore completely. The Bible is there to reveal us as we truly are, beauty and warts and everything else.

The Bible is there to reveal us as we truly are, beauty and warts and everything else.

If we start looking down on the Pharisee by believing we are the tax collector, we actually reveal ourselves to be the Pharisee. Just as he looked down on the tax collector, we look down on him and think to ourselves, “At least I’m not like that.”

But when we recognize our inner Pharisee and admit that we judge, we are hypocritical, we are arrogant… well, we admit we are sinners and we start to sound a lot like the tax collector.

Notice that Luke begins retelling this parable with verse 9:

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable.”

Who is Luke talking about here? The crowd? Maybe.

What about us, his readers?

Do we ever consider that Luke might have wanted to be sure that just as the early crowds surrounding Jesus were challenged or even offended by Jesus’ teachings, that we should be too? Could we be so sure of our own goodness and righteousness that we look down on other people, thinking that somehow we are above them?

The Bible can and will expose us if we let it. It can wreck us if we let it. But it can also, by the power of God’s Spirit, speak new life and redemption into our lives. When our arrogance, sin, and pride are exposed, God can then begin working on building a new foundation.

I encourage you to approach the Bible this way. More than that I encourage you to teach the Bible this way. Let us not give into the temptation of taking the easy road when it comes to the words of Christ, to the words of Paul, or to the words of any of the authors in the Bible. Let us be leveled by what we read, let us be willing to let the Spirit level other people as they read it, and let us seize that opportunity to let Scripture shape and form us as disciples.

About the Author: Bryan Amerling

Bryan AmerlingBryan Amerling has been a youth pastor for 18 years.  He has been married to his amazing wife Sheridan for 18 years as well, and has two children; Rebekah, 13, and Ethan, 10.  He holds a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering from the University of Florida, and a Masters of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary.  When not playing with his family or working with the youth in his church, he enjoys Florida Gator football, reading, and playing guitar.  You can email him at bryan.amerling@gmail.com