Parables: The Pharisee and the Tax-Collector

As I read and contemplated this parable a few nights ago, I was struck by how Jesus addressed attitudes that were not only prevalent in His day, but are also common among religious people today. Whose attitude do you see in yourself?

9 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Target audience…
Did you notice who He spoke this parable to? “Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:” He spoke it to the self-righteous, probably the Scribes, Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. Jesus butted heads with that group often, and they took the brunt of some of His worst barbs. Let’s break this down and look at their attitudes individually.

Self-righteous…
They were sure that they “had it made“. Observe: “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’” WOW! They were “shining-examples” of exemplary behavior to all of those around them. They had a list of “do’s” and “don’t’s” way longer than my arms, and they kept them to the letter. If anyone was going to please God and get into heaven, it was going to be them. After all, since God had given quite a few rules already, wouldn’t more rules be even better? God should REALLY be impressed. There was only one “little” problem…they were doing it THEIR way.

Despised others…
They were SO sure that they had it “right“, that they believed that they had the RIGHT to look down their long, Jewish noses at anyone who didn’t meet their high standards. Observe: “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.” Tax-collectors were particularly-despised, because they were often Jews who had sold out to the Romans, and they collected Roman taxes for a piece of the “action“. Matthew was a tax-collector before Jesus called him to be a disciple.

Two men…
Jesus introduced two men, a Pharisee, and a tax-collector. They both went to the temple, ostensibly for the same reason – to pray, and yet their demeanor, and the outcome of their prayers were very different. Notice the Pharisee’s demeanor: “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself,…“, contrasted with the Tax-collector’s demeanor: “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast,…“.

The Pharisee stood there in arrogance and pride, while the Tax-collector approached God in genuine humility. The content of their prayers was also entirely-different.

Their prayers…
The Pharisee said: “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’“, as if to remind God of how “good” he was.

The Tax-collector said: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” The Tax-collector knew that he was a sinner, and that he couldn’t do it on his own, so he threw himself on the mercy of God.

Their outcomes…
Both men prayed, but very different prayers, and two entirely-different outcomes. Jesus said: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

God heard the Tax-collector’s prayer, but the Pharisee’s prayer didn’t even get much more than out of his mouth before it fell flat.

Jesus’s commentary on their results is particularly-telling: “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Do we exalt ourselves, or do we humble ourselves?

Thoughts…
Jesus pointed out a much-needed “attitude-adjustment” that His audience needed to make, but as was typical of His other encounters with them, I doubt that it had much of an effect. We still need that “attitude-adjustment” just as badly as they did almost two-thousand years ago, because we can always find “worse-sinners” to look down on, or can we? Is their sin any “worse” than our own? If you think so, remember that God hates PRIDE…

The ROOT of those attitudes was PRIDE, pride in their ability to make God “happy” by their own efforts, and pride in the fact that they were “better” than that poor Tax-collector. PRIDE and me go WAY back, and at times, we have been best-friends, because I have always been accomplishment-oriented. My accomplishments have always been the basis for my self-esteem and the foundation of my self-worth, and the only way to give myself a “boost” was to pat myself on the back. This is nothing new to those of you who have been following this blog for a while, but for the newcomers, go back and read “Pride“.

Do you think that you are going to make it to heaven “your way“? Do you think that you are “better” than other people? If so, I pray that you will meditate on this parable and ask God to help you with that “attitude-adjustment“.

God bless!
Steve

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2 thoughts on “Parables: The Pharisee and the Tax-Collector

  1. An excellent example of our LORD confronting sinners about their sins and their true needs, and not just loving them and overlooking their sins, like a lot of the world believes Jesus did.

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    • Yes, and in so doing, He confronts US about our sin and need for a different attitude. Max Lucado, in his book, God Came Near, wrote “Christianity, in its purest form, is nothing more than seeing Jesus. Christian service, in its purest form, is nothing more than imitating Him who we see. To see His majesty and to imitate Him, that is the sum of Christianity.” That is my goal, to see Jesus, and to imitate Him in thought, word and deed.

      There are many people in one of my social-circles who are unbelievers, and I have the opportunity to love them and allow His light to shine through me every time I see them. Do they see Jesus in me? They certainly wouldn’t if I looked down my long “Christian” nose at them. Only God knows for sure.

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