Luke 18:9 – 14
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” 13But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” 14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’
Jesus was talking with his disciples, but this parable is directed to someone else – the Pharisees, those who think they are religious, those who think they are righteous, who regard people who are different from them, or people they believe to be sinners, or at the very least less righteous than them, in contempt. Just this opening line, this introduction to the parable should speak volumes to us today! We can get so caught up in being sure WE are right, and therefore, righteous, that we look with contempt on other people – whether that is people who are different from us, or people who disagree with us. And so, let us all pay attention to this parable:
A Pharisee and a tax-collector went to the temple to pray – and no, Jesus is not telling a bad joke – but a parable, a story that strikes to the very heart. All of Jesus’ listeners at the time would have been certain, the Pharisee was the righteous one, the tax-collector had a lot of nerve going into the temple at all! After all, tax collectors were not welcome among the righteous – why, they might even refuse to serve tax collectors in their businesses. They were considered sinners, and the righteous did not want to associate with them!
But Jesus’ story continues – the prayer of the Pharisee sounds like a recitation on his righteousness, as if God did not know the things he has done. He prays loudly, not for God’s sake, but so that those around him might know how righteous he is. He thanks God that he is not like others: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even the tax-collector. This is a prayer of the Pharisees that has come down through the years, except it also included thanks that the man praying was not a dog, and was not a woman.
The tax-collector, on the other hand, has taken a look at himself, and sees himself as a sinner. He stands far off and prays without even looking up to heaven, for he considers himself unworthy. He beats his breast and prays, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
And Jesus says – the tax collector was justified, made right, with God that day, rather than the other. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.