THE PARABLE OF THE PHARISEE AND THE TAX COLLECTOR
And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
In this great parable, Jesus shows us the ugliness of pride and self-righteousness and the beauty of humility. He shows us also that God forgives the humble ones who call out to Him for mercy. We are first told of two men who go up to the temple to pray. The one is a Pharisee and the other is a tax collector. The Pharisee and the tax collector both pray to God. However, there is a great difference in their prayers. This difference also shows us a great difference in their hearts as well.
The Pharisee came to pray at the temple because it was a public place where he could be seen by more people than he would be at his home. This man was not an overtly gross sinner who would practice such vices as extortion, or adultery. As well, he was aware of good things that he had done such as give to God of his money and fasting. For this reason, he felt confident of God’s acceptance of him. He prayed loudly, thanking God that he was such a good person.
The Pharisee prays to God and the content of his prayer is a praise of himself and a declaration of his own worthiness.
There was praying that day another man, a tax collector who would not even lift his eyes to heaven but in humility cried out, “… God be merciful to me a sinner.” (vs 13)This one, Jesus says, was justified rather than the other.
What is self-righteousness? Some might not like this definition but, biblically, self-righteousness is believing that in yourself you are a good person. It is what it says it is, self-righteousness, that is trusting in yourself to be righteous. The Pharisee was a very religious man. Often self-righteousness is a characteristic of religious people but you don’t have to be religious to be self-righteous. You can be as irreligious as an atheist and have the same kind of heart as this Pharisee. To have a self-righteous heart is simply to believe that in yourself you are a good person. The Bible does not say that you and I are good people in ourselves. It says that we are sinners in need of forgiveness and salvation “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” (Romans 3:23). The tax collector knew this, that is why he prayed the way he did. He confessed to God that he was a sinner and he begged for mercy.
How many today refuse to acknowledge their need of God and yet the evidence for our need of God is staring us in the face. On our own without God, our lives just drift downward and continue in a vicious circle of frustration as we go from loss to loss. The things that never satisfied us before, we go back to time and time again. This is evidence that our souls are in turmoil and we need the Lord. We were not made to just bump around from one problem to the next. We were made to have fellowship with God and to fulfill a purpose. This is why the tax collector cried “…God be merciful to me a sinner.”(vs 13)
The tax collector knew that he was a sinner, but he also knew that God was a God who showed mercy. God is holy. God is truthful. God is also merciful; the Bible teaches “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” (Romans 10:9). The tax collector cried out to God for mercy. This is faith.
Friend, are you a good person or are you a sinner? In the Bible Jesus told this parable to those “ … which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, …” (vs9) What are you trusting in? On the day that you stand before the Lord are you going to tell God that you were a good person?
Dear reader, if you have not already done so, call out to God and tell Him that you are a sinner in need of His forgiveness. Say, “be merciful to me.” God looks at the hearts of men and women. Your heart could be like the humble tax collector’s heart. Call out to God.
Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, came to earth and died for your sins and mine and for the sins of mankind. He took the penalty; “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28). Jesus rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand of Father God. Pray and call out to Him. Commit your life to following Him. Call out to God and experience His mercy. God bless you.
Morris Leon, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Luke, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans1992.
Cantelon, Brent. “What is the Worth…” Audio cassette.
Hendrickson, William. New Testament Commentary. The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993.
Henry, Matthew. A Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol 5. Iowa Falls World Bible Publishers.
Scripture taken from the King James Version.