Luke 18:9-14 is one of 3 prayer stories unmentioned by the other gospel writers(11:45-13, 18:1-8)
Prayer story- explaining the basic nature and necessity of prayer
If we compare ourselves to others, we feel pretty good. It’s much tougher when we compare ourselves to Jesus. St Francis of Assisi once said, "What a man is in the sight of God, that he is and no more."
The tax collector was. These were men at the lowest social rung. The Romans paid these men to collect taxes from their fellow men. These men were turncoats because they would tell the Romans how much their neighbors could afford to pay. Then they would keep as much of a commission as they wanted and the Roman soldiers protected them! They were hated!
The Pharisee, in the parable, prays about himself. It was a common prayer that went something like this: "God, I thank you that I am not like these other men. I thank you that I am not a women, gentile, slave or tax collector. I fast twice a week and I give 10% of everything," he actually makes 5 I statements
In Jesus’ time, a Pharisee would literally give 10% of everything he used. Jim said it would be like using salt at the table and literally setting aside 10% of that salt and bringing it to the church. "We don’t want you to do that here." It would also be like filling up your car with gas and then bringing 10% of the gas you used to church. "That, you’re welcome to do here."
The tax collector, on the other hand, would pray quietly in the furthest corner. Beating his breast was the worst kind of mourning for the Jews, usually reserved for the death of a loved one. The tax collector grieves hard and asks for God’s forgiveness. Then Jesus drops the bomb on the crowd saying that the tax collector was the one who is justified rather than the Pharisee. It is true that the tax collector does not show ‘works of repentance’, e.g. in restoring ill gotten wealth, and therefore the Pharisees would have disagreed with Jesus that he was justified by God but Jesus lesson is precisely that the attitudes of the heart is ultimately what matters, and justification depends on the mercy of God to the penitent rather than on the works which might be thought to earn God’s favour; When Zachaeus restores his ill-gotten gains – a responsibility from which he is not excused! – this follows his acceptance by Jesus and does not precede it.
The closer you get to God, more you realize how far away you are from Him (in His perfection). It’s easy to be a Pharisee today. We can physically show what we do for the church while the world outside doesn’t bother to come. Comparing ourselves to others is a practice that can blind us of our sins. "I must tell you that this parable terrifies me." It reminds me of all the times I worshipped, gave, preached and prayed because I thought it was the right thing to do.
When is the last time we spent in repentence? But why does God call us to do this? God loves us and He cannot forgive what we won’t confess. The Holy God of the Universe cannot have a relationship with people who are not willing to be holy. Spiritual complacency is equivalent to spiritual suicide. God wants us to have an abundant life; more abundant than we have and he shows us how if we are just willing. C.S. Lewis, in "Mere Christianity", said it best: "Man, in his natural condition, does not have spiritual life, that higher plain of existence with God. Our biological life comes to us from nature and it’s prone to decay and corruption. That’s why we must incessantly be subsidized by Nature with food and air and water and so forth. The spiritual life is eternal with God and He actually was the creator of the entire natural world. There is a relationship, to be sure, between the natural and spiritual; a shadowy symbolic relationship, but it is the relationship between a photograph and a place or a statue and a person. A person who changes from natural life to spiritual life would undergo as great a change as a statue, which changes from carved stone to being a real man. And that is precisely what Christianity is about. This world is a great sculpture shop. We are the statues. There is a rumor about the shop that some of us, someday, are going to come to Life."