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The Parable of The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

(Luke 18:9-14)

In Luke 18:9-14, we read the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus within himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’

And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise 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 and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

I believe in telling the truth from my heart. I don’t like wearing masks. I don’t practice being one person to someone and another person to someone else. Anyone who meets me encounters the real me. Anyone who hears me speak or reads my articles: hears the truth from my heart. I make no pretences. People say that I wear my heart on my sleeve, thereby making myself too open for criticism, but that’s how I am. I don’t worry about what others think of me. If I have a message—if I have something to say—I say it as clearly as I can. I reach down into my heart and put as much emotion into what I am saying as I can muster. I may seem odd, but I’m not much for thinking about the consequences of what I say.

Some people are so busy wondering what others are going to think of them, that they go around carefully planning what they are going to say, in order to get the right responses. I know who I am. I know that I am important to Jesus Christ. I know that He has given me the ability to visit Him in Heaven through visions. He has given me the ability to see angels in dreams. I know that I am loved by Jesus and it is this understanding of His love that gives me confidence and boldness to speak the truth from my heart all the time without worrying about consequences.

I share some amazing things. I share the deepest sins and most disgusting deeds of my past in order that I may share the message of salvation—in order that I may illustrate a point. I don’t try to sugar-coat my words. Because I verbalize my thoughts, I have offended people and I am sorry for that. Of course, I don’t want to insult and hurt someone. Sometimes there are things I would like to say to someone, but I restrain myself in love.

In this parable Jesus was comparing two different people: the tax collector was mindful of his sin and pleaded for forgiveness, but the Pharisee saw himself as sinless. He looked down on the tax collector as someone extremely inferior. The Pharisee was truly convinced that his self-righteous acts were pleasing to God. He had no idea that he was using a false measuring stick when measuring holiness! God’s level of holiness is perfection, which no one in their own strength can ever meet. The Pharisee measured holiness by comparing himself with others. This is wrong theology: the Bible says we all fall short in the holiness race: if we lose by a meter or by a kilometer: we still lose! The Pharisee was a very “religious” man, who was full of his own importance.

There are billions of people exactly like the Pharisee and some of them sit in church each week: pride is not just found in the streets! Everybody, when asked if they are a good person, will automatically respond straight away, saying: “I’m a very good person!” That’s because we compare ourselves to others and not to Jesus Christ, who is God’s only measuring rod.

At the risk of sounding prideful, the tax collector in this story is much like me. He beats his breast and he says, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” You will notice that the tax collector stood “afar off,” in this story because he was too ashamed to go close up to the temple. He kept his eyes lowered to the ground because he felt so low and unworthy.

Some people mistakenly think that those who do not know Christ do not understand that they are sinners. They are wrong. In Romans 1, it says that God has made Himself very clear to the unbeliever. He has made His presence understandable, so that every person in this world is without excuse on judgment day. Every person, whether you choose to believe it or not, knows that there is a God, even the ones that deny this fact. Why would they deny a God when in the first place they did not acknowledge that there is a God? They just choose to deny God. So, everyone knows of their own sins. Everyone knows the bad things they do. Some people are more honest about their sins. Some people confess their sins and others are more private.

This tax collector was not making a big deal of his sin. He was just pleading to God to be merciful to him. In today’s language, in today’s society, it is hard to understand how bad a tax collector was. In the Roman days, tax collectors extorted people. Their bad deeds were known by the public, but even with all the descriptions, it is hard to understand how bad this man was, because we do not have the modern equivalent of a tax collector.

The best way I can describe how a tax collector was loathed in the Jewish society—and shunned for that matter, is to mention the word “pedophile.” I think if we replaced the words “tax collector” with the word “pedophile,” we would see the significance of this parable; if there was a Pharisee standing in the temple praying and then a known pedophile went to the temple and was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’—I think we would have a clearer idea of how controversial this parable was in its day. The word “pedophile” brings with it a feeling of disgust to our mind, especially when you have been abused by one.

The point is: Jesus is saying that this man who beat his breast, walked away justified. God saw what he did and was compassionate to him. He said, “You are forgiven, totally forgiven, because you have been humble and truthful and I accept your prayer.”

The point of the whole parable is in the opening and closing remarks. Verse 9 “Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: At the end of our reading, Jesus said: “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

There are people in some Christian churches who teach about holiness. They point out that in order to be saved: we have to be holy and righteous before God. They speak of a God who judges people, who reproves people, who disciplines people. They teach that we have to do certain things to gain approval: read the Bible, pray, go to church and tithe. They say that when we do these things we will be close to God and to be accepted by Him. I once fully agreed with this, but now I disagree. I am accepted by God for one reason: I have placed my faith in His Son Jesus Christ and now, spiritually, I am seated in the heavenly places with Jesus Christ my Savior and Lord. Jesus said His work was finished and I believe that to be true. My spirit is just as holy as God’s Spirit and God has promised to work on my soul and body to bring them in line with His will, until I die.

Some verses robbed me of joy, but not anymore! Verses like James 2:10: “For whoever shall keep the whole law and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” James wasn’t trying to be legalistic, he was pointing out that no one can live a perfect life without God.

So, how righteous are you, reader? Have you sinned once in the past month? Many people think that they are sinless; that they have totally conquered sin and they are not sinning anymore. I was like one of these people, except that I had an addiction which I could not rid myself of. I would have some successes three months here and four months there. I would have certain breaks in my addiction. I would conquer it for a while through repentance and right living, but then it would come back again. This was always a stumbling block for me when I thought I was holy and righteous.

I also had a tendency to gossip and I knew that it was a sin. So, although I paraded myself around as more holy, more devout, more righteous, more zealous for the things of God than most people, I was failing in two points at least! I was stumbling in two areas and James says that from breaking just one Law, I was guilty of breaking all of them.

When you think you are righteous, you go around judging other people. You are comparing yourself with other people. The apostle Paul says it is not healthy to compare yourself with others. The righteousness that Jesus won for us on the cross is the only righteousness we are to glory in! If we mix our own works—if we take the claim and glory in our own self works—we are filthy. It says in Scripture that self- righteousness is like filthy rags. If you think you are righteous, you are wrong. You are not. You are full of pride and Jesus says that if you exalt yourself, you will be humbled.

No one regardless of how hard they try can deserve salvation. It is only by faith in Jesus Christ that we can be saved. Two important Scriptures to understand are Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 5:1-2.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9.

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace, in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:1-2.

I heard this illustration once: Imagine you have a farm and your dam is empty, but there is a creek nearby with fresh running water. If you place a hose in the creek and pump water to a tap on your property, you can access water and water your crops. Now let’s rename the hose and call it: “faith in Jesus.” Also, let’s rename the creek water and call it: “God’s grace.” Now let’s paraphrase these Scriptures:

“We are not saved by any self-righteous works that we have ever done, but we are instead saved by the righteous works that Jesus did on our behalf. When we place our faith in Jesus, then God’s grace waters our life, so that the works we do, are done in the power of His strength and not from any strength or ability of our own.”

Faith in Jesus is the carrier of God’s grace. It is God’s grace that gives us the power to resist sin and even when we fall, it is still God’s grace that forgives us. The tax collector’s sins were forgiven by grace: the Pharisee came away from his praying exactly the same as he was before he opened his mouth!

I pray that I have brought some understanding to you in this parable.



To read more about Matthew Robert Payne or to know how to book him to speak at your church click on my name Matthew Robert Payne