I love the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector! But before we press on – take a moment to read the text.
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.”
(Luke 18:9-14 ESV)
Here is what we know of the Pharisee, the tax collector, and the Savior:
- He is grateful (well that’s a good thing isn’t it?) – well, not exactly. You see, he was grateful for his own, personal goodness
- He was grateful that he was NOT like the tax collector
- And you know…. he probably was a good guy – doing a lot of good things! (fast 2x a week, tithing, not an adulterer or unjust, or…..)
- He fasts 2x’s a week! Sounds like he is a “good” person to me! Sure is doing better than I am….
- Tax collectors were known to the be worst of the worst. They were polar opposites to the Pharisees. They were known to NOT be good.
- So, this tax collector did not speak to God from his standpoint of personal goodness. HE HAD NONE TO SPEAK OF!
- His simple prayer was: “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
- Interesting – Jesus never corrected the Pharisee’s notion that he is good.
- The Saviors perspective of both men: “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.”
- Jesus is saying that the Pharisee’s external good works are not the reason for God’s attention. This is good news! Because, I am a sinner – A tax collector! Simply put: Religious, good works, done to – get Gods attention….. don’t.
- Did you catch the whole point of the parable? It is stated at the very start. Read it again: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.”
- The good works of man will never justify us.
- The good works are on display (external) and because they are, the self – righteous pride in this mans heart is being overlooked (internal). Sometimes we think we are doing SO much good and because we are we think we can twist Gods arm and gain His attention in prayer.
- His attention comes to those who recognize they are sinners and in need of a Savior. Amazing, God listened to a bad person…. because the bad person knew he was bad!
At the end of the day – God heard the prayers of the un-righteous person and this is why I love this story! If God did not hear the prayers of the un-righteous person He would never hear mine and never hear yours.
Amazing – that God would hear from sinful man at all. Seriously, what have we done to earn God’s attention? And therein lies the Gospel. It is our faith in Christ, not ourselves, that saves us!
Why I love this story:
- It gives me hope. God MOVES in spite of me!
- It gives me faith. God is ABLE in spite of me!
- It gives me grace. God GRANTS grace in spite of me!
And so today I join with my tax collector friends and…. pray. How about you?