It’s human to compare ourselves to one another. And rarely do comparisons help us. Sometimes we end up feeling like we’re not good enough or smart enough or attractive enough. Other times, comparisons inadvertently lead us to judge others. We can feel like we’re better than someone else. Humility and honesty are always the best policies. They open us up to deeper relationships with one another and with God. In this lesson, children will explore Jesus’ parable of a Pharisee and tax collector visiting the Temple. They will consider its message and will explore how we might find truth and beauty in that which is flawed but honest.
Begin your time with the children by presenting them with a series of “would you rather” situations. For each, choose two items that the children must choose from. For example: “Would you rather eat a meal out at a restaurant or at home?”; “Would you rather play in the snow or in a swimming pool?” or “Would you rather have a dog or a cat?” As children indicate their preferences, ask them to justify their answers. Why is a dog a better choice than a cat? Why would you like to eat a home-cooked meal over a restaurant dinner? After playing a few rounds of this game, ask the children to consider when comparing two things to make a choice is beneficial. Then, have them wonder about when it might be harmful to make comparisons. Encourage them to keep these thoughts in the backs of their minds as you read today’s Scripture passage together.
Exploring the passage
Prepare to read aloud Luke 18:9-14. Provide context for the passage. Tell the children that the story is another of Jesus’ parables. Review what a parable is or introduce the concept if the children have not read parables in the past. Then, share that today’s parable features two main characters. One is a Pharisee. This person was a religious leader in the Temple at the time when Jesus was alive. Religious leaders were generally highly respected in the community. The other character is a tax collector. Most people in Jesus’ time did not like tax collectors and not just because they would come to take some of their money for taxes. Many tax collectors were considered dishonest. Unlike a religious leader, a tax collector was not very respected.
Read aloud Luke 18:9-14. After reading the passage, ask the children to recount how the Pharisee featured in the story acts when he is praying in the Temple. What is his opinion of himself? Why does he think God favors him? Then, ask the children to recount how the tax collector behaves while he is praying. What is his opinion of himself? How does he interact with God? Ask the children to reflect on these two characters and their actions. How do they feel about each man’s behavior?
After exploring the story, focus on the second part of the last line of the passage. Jesus says, “for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” Define any of the words that the children are unfamiliar with. Then, have them wonder what Jesus is saying about being honest and humble with God. What is Jesus calling us to do? Note that God wants us to be honest with one another and with God, even if what we must share is not something that makes us look particularly good. The tax collector realizes he is flawed and tells God that. God accepts us for who we are — flaws and all. And God loves and embraces us even when we are not at our best.
Relating the passage to our lives
Help children connect the Scripture to their own lives through an art activity. Prior to the lesson, gather the materials you’ll need. Collect discarded materials such as recycled paper and bits of art materials that are either damaged or too small to make a full craft. Also, provide a blank sheet of paper for each child, glue and scissors.
Lay out the art materials. Tell the children that these items could easily be thrown out. They are damaged, used or useless. Even though they are flawed, we can make beautiful art out of them. Hand each child a blank sheet of paper, glue and scissors. Ask them to make a piece of art by using the miscellaneous art materials along with glue, paper and scissors.
When they have completed their artwork, have each child share their work, noting how the seemingly inferior art materials are transformed when they have the ability to be used to make something beautiful.
Conclude your time together by offering a prayer. Ask God to remind each person that they can come to God with anything. We can share our joys and our concerns, but we can also tell God the truth about hard things in our lives.