Luke 18:9–14 (ESV) The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat 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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
This is undoubtedly one of the hard teachings of Jesus! Those who heard Jesus’ parable would have seen the Pharisee as a guy who earnestly wanted to live in the “right” way (i.e., righteously). No doubt he had turned away from temptations and things that would take him away from God’s presence.
The tax collector would not be seen that way. Even with the kindest disposition toward the tax collector, he must have made some “bad” compromises in his life. That is the only way to explain why he would collaborate with the Romans to collect their taxes and then take more money from his countrymen to fill his own pockets. He was the worst of the worst!
In Jesus parable, both these men went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee knew that he was different from most men. He was very aware that most men lived immoral lives. As he prayed, it was evident that he considered himself to be much more righteous than nearly everyone – and especially that tax collector!
The tax collector also prayed. Simply by his body language, anyone could tell that he was ashamed. He begged for God’s mercy and acknowledged that he was a sinner.
Jesus said that when they left the temple, only one of those men was considered righteous by God. Jesus must have shocked everyone when he said the tax collector was justified!
God’s mercy and forgiveness is not something we earn. It is not something we deserve because we lived a righteous life. (See Isaiah 64:6) The Pharisee thought he was better because he worked so hard to do the right thing and to be good. But the Pharisee depended on himself and on his own grit and determination to be righteous. He didn’t see that his righteousness came from God. (See Jeremiah 33:14-16) The tax collector pleaded for God’s mercy and he received it. This passage begins with “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.”
Heavenly Father, you are my righteousness. Help me to live into your righteousness. Amen.