Summary: An examination of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector
The Exalted and the Justified
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.”
All people like to talk about themselves. We take our greatest achievements and use these actions to make ourselves appear better than we are and to be more appealing to others. Naturally these tales will put us in the best light and make us the envy of those who listen to us. There are some who will embellish, that is to say exaggerate or lie about events, to make what happen seem more than what it was.
Jesus had encountered many people who were very much convinced of their own spiritual and religious superiority. Most of these were the Pharisees and Sadducees that were constantly about during Jesus’ last part of His time here on earth. These men believed that because they lived according to the rules of the elders, they were better than those who did not.
To these men Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, also called a publican. In this parable a Pharisee and a tax collector are praying in the Temple. The Pharisee is very pleased he is not like other men, thieves, adulterers, and those who do evil, even to the point of saying he is glad he is not like the tax collector who is standing next to him. The Pharisee then went on to tell God all the good he does. The tax collector, humiliated by his condition, stood a distance away and wouldn’t look toward heaven, just asked for mercy. Jesus told the assembled that the tax collector, and not the Pharisee, who went home justified before God. Justified which is to mean vindicated or made blameless.
One of the ideals Jesus spoke quite a bit about was those who tried to puff themselves up or elevate themselves above others would be brought down or humbled before others, He used this as an example in a number of parables. This concept was told to the Children of Israel by King Solomon in Proverbs 16:18 which states “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall”. Earlier in Luke, Jesus told that parable of taking the lowest seat at a feast which Jesus ended with the same words as this parable, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
In Mark 10:42-45, after John and James asked Jesus to allow them to sit at His right and left in glory, we read “But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Jesus, the chiefest of all, told the disciples, and everyone throughout the ages, that He did not come to be served, but to serve.
But people seem to forget this very important lesson. Those in a leadership position believe that those under them are there for the benefit of the leader. We find this true in government, at our place of employment, and even at home. Those of us given the responsibility of head of the household at times can forget that it is our responsibility to insure the family is cared for, which is a servant role. Those who are given the responsibility of supervisor at work need to make sure those subordinate to them are given everything they need to succeed, again a servant’s duty. It becomes our obligation to insure we do not make that mistake in our lives and to gently correct those who misuse their authority.
The chiefest of us, our Lord and our God, our Savior Jesus, came to us to serve. The King of Kings did not come with the pomp and ceremony due to Him, but in great humility and almost unnoticed, and would have been unnoticed if God had not made the birth known. Our Immanuel, our God with us, was not the object of unrestrained worship and adoration, but subject to scorn, ridicule, and hatred by many. And in the end, the Savior served all people by taking our sins to be His own, as recorded for us in 2nd Corinthians 5:21, “For [God] hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Our Lord served His creation by taking the punishment we deserve, enduring the sentence of hell that is rightly ours to rescue us from ourselves. The highest of us all willingly became the servant of all.