Summary: One of the greatest parables ever told was the story of the Pharisee and the Tax collector. The story is great because it has plot twists and leads to a surprise ending. The word righteousness means “right-standing”. To be righteous means to be in right
A MAN WHO WENT HOME JUSTIFIED
Luke 18: 9-14
One of the greatest parables ever told was the story of the Pharisee and the Tax collector. The story is great because it has plot twists and leads to a surprise ending. In Jesus’ day this simple story surely sent people home baffled and buzzing. The message of this simple parable is one of the most pivotal teachings we can have.
"To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”" (Luke 18:9-14, NIV)
Scripture tells us what the purpose of the parable was before the parable even begins, “to some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.” Before we can understand this purpose however we need to define some important theological terms. What do these terms “righteousness” and “justified” mean?
The word righteousness means “right-standing”. To be righteous means to be in right-standing with God. God views the righteous person as being good. Righteousness is a requirement to be accepted by God. The other word is the word justified. The word means to be treated as if one were righteous. When one is justified in a court case they are declared to be innocent or not guilty. In the case of this parable, Jesus was speaking to those who thought they were right and good in God’s eyes. And the story ends with the account of a man who was justified or declared righteous by God. Since all of us would rather BE righteous instead of just thinking we were righteous, we would do well to listen to this parable carefully.
There are two players in this parable, the Pharisee and the Publican or Tax collector. We have been trained to boo whenever the Pharisees come on stage. We always assume that they were the “bad guys”. What we forget is that in the day of Jesus people didn’t see the Pharisees as the bad guys. They were the spiritual guys. They were the guys mothers pointed to and said, “If you don’t do your homework, you’ll never grow up to be important like these men.” They were admired, respected, and perhaps a little feared because of their great knowledge. They were men who worked hard to obey God’s law. They were disciplined and consistent in their religious duties. When this Pharisee came into the temple to pray, people listened. And when he talked about how grateful he was to be different from the Tax collector the people understood why he would be grateful . . . who wouldn’t be?
The Tax collector on the other hand, was a different story. Tax collectors were known to overcharge and to pocket as much as they could. The Romans told them how much tax to collect and anything they collected beyond that amount they were able to keep. They made a living off cheating other people. Everyone hated these guys.
To understand the contrast in this story, imagine a well-know and well respected Pastor, author, speaker going to the church to pray. And at the church there was also a drug-dealer praying. This is the kind of contrast Jesus draws.
We are told several things about the Pharisee:
1. First we are told that he stood to pray.
Now there is nothing inherently wrong with standing as you pray. But when the detail is placed next to the account of the Tax collector the posture of the prayers helps drive home the point. The one man came to the Lord in humility, the other with confidence.
Again, there is nothing wrong with praying confidently. We are told to come “boldly before the throne of grace”. The key issue is why you are bold in your approach to God. For the Pharisee, he felt he could be bold because “he had earned” this position. He had worked hard to get a hearing with God.
But as we listen to this leader’s prayer we begin to see the problem that Jesus is going to address. The Pharisee says, “‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’