Summary: A lesson about the spirit with which we approach God.
The Parable Of The Pharisee And The Tax Collector
Rev. Philip A. Gunther
“In the eyes of Christ a person confessing sin is nearer to true goodness than a person boasting of his goodness.” (F.F. Bruce, Theologian)
Pray And Do Not Give Up
The setting is as follows: Jesus had just finished telling His disciples a parable “to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). In it the Lord taught the value of persevering in prayer because “God [will] bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry to him day and night” (Luke 18:7).
The parable that follows, the parable of The Pharisee And The Tax Collector, which we want to look at this morning, is linked to Jesus’ parable about persevering in prayer. Specifically, the parable of The Pharisee And The Tax Collector deals with the attitude with which we offer up our prayers: “[For] without the proper spirit, our perseverance in prayer will be for nothing (Mark Copeland, The Parables Of Jesus).”
“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable” (Luke 18:9).
Jesus is going to direct His parable specifically at those in the crowd around Him who were self-assured, convinced, of their own moral purity and ethical standing. They were so very proud of their perceived moral standing before God and consequently looked down their noses at most everyone else.
"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 18:10-14).
"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.”
A Pharisee was a member of the Jewish faith set apart to maintain and further the divine cause (Craig Evans, Luke). They were layman zealous about keeping the Scriptures, the oral law and traditions pure. They were the pious ‘church-goers’ of their time who attended every Scripture study and rigorously sought to obey every law of the faith. Pharisees knew how to pray. In fact, “they applied themselves to the art of prayer (Emil Brunner, Sowing And Reaping: The Parables Of Jesus).”
We today have grown accustomed to thinking negatively of them as soon as we hear their name. However, Pharisees were highly respected and looked up to in their community. They were the ‘deacons’ or ‘elders’ of the church so-to-speak.
We need to see them as honored members of the Jewish community in order to fully understand this parable. They were the good guys; the best of the best of Jewish citizenry. It is important to remember that Jesus is speaking of one specific Pharisee and not the whole group.
A tax collector was at the other end of the spectrum. He would have been perceived by the community as the worst of the worst of Jewish citizenry, perhaps even lower. Tax collectors, in the Scriptures, were Jews who worked for the ruling Roman authorities. They were considered both extortioners and traitors - extortioners because they were notoriously noted for collecting more taxes than was owned and pocketing the difference – and traitors because they served the occupying power of Rome. Again, Jesus was speaking of one specific tax collector and not the whole bunch.
Remember, as the parable opens we must view the Pharisee positively – he’s the hero. The tax collector is to be viewed negatively – he’s the bad guy.
“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’” (Luke 18:11,12).
The Pharisee: “O Lord, it’s hard to be humble when I see how rotten others are compared to me. Thank you Lord I’m not like those people, you know, people who steal, who do bad things and who cheat on their wives or even like this guy over there who works for Revenue Rome. Yes Lord, I am one of the very, very few who does more than even the Law requires – you know, I give a tenth of all I get to the temple while everyone else just gives a tenth of their income. I also go without food and water, I fast from sunrise to sunset twice a week and not just once year like most other folks. Yes God, thank you that I am not like these other people.”