Reflect for a minute on this wise saying. But understand, it is not referencing physical stature but personal worldview and spiritual identity.
Small people don’t think they are small.
Great people don’t think they are great.
Jesus told a parable contrasting two men who fit these categories.
One of them, a church goer full of himself, prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). In his own eyes, he didn’t think he was small.
The other, one of those tax collectors (known for fraud and extortion), prayed, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). In his own eyes, he didn’t think he was great.
How did they measure up in Jesus’ eyes? Still talking about the tax collector, Jesus said, “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 18:14).
Jesus defines smallness and greatness for us. Jesus tells us the difference between confidence and arrogance. It all comes down to one word.
The churchgoing Pharisee exalted himself as great compared to others. So great that he didn’t need mercy. This made him truly small. Smaller even than those he listed.
The scrupulous tax collector humbled himself as small. So small they he didn’t deserve anything from God but just punishment for his sins. So small that all he could do was close his eyes and beg for mercy. This made him truly great.
He went home “justified before God.” That’s not how he felt or how he had behaved. But it’s who he is. The God of mercy says so. Because of who he is—forgiving, gracious, and saving.
Arrogance says, “This is all about me. I can do this. As a matter of fact, I don’t need others. Or God.”
Confidence says, “This is bigger than me. I can’t do this alone. I need others. And most of all, I need God.”
PRAYER: Dear Jesus, when I think I’m small, let the mercy you promise fill my soul with confidence. Teach me to humble myself, comparing myself less to others. Amen.
FURTHER MEDITATION: Read and meditate on the entire parable of Jesus in Luke 18:9-14. When, in your thoughts and dreams, have you recently sounded like the Pharisee? Spend some alone time with God, like the tax collector, and in repentance have confidence in his mercy. Meditate on the word “justified.”