The second parable in the Jesus’ teaching on humility is the Parable of the Proud Pharisee and the Corrupt Tax Collector. This parable is found in Luke 18:9-14. It reads;
9 Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Pharisees were a religious and political party in Palestine in New Testament times known for strict observance of rites and ceremonies of the written law and for insistence on the validity of their own oral traditions concerning the law. In their eyes, they were always right and anyone who behaved differently from them, was wrong. The knowledge of the law created pride in them. They were blinded by the dos and don’ts and couldn’t even recognise Jesus as the fulfilment of the law when He came. Their eyes were scaled by religion.
Tax collectors were seen as wicked and dishonest people. To be honest, that idea hasn’t changed a lot even now. Many of us do not like the tax man. People didn’t like to associate with tax collectors then. Jesus was scolded when He was seen eating with Zaccheaus just because Zaccheaus was a tax collector.
We are now going to see lessons we can learn from the prayer of the Pharisees and the tax collector. But we won’t be able to do that, without observing the flaws as well.
Flaws in the prayer of the Pharisee
11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
Self righteousness: His prayer was laced with pride. “I am not like other people”. There is a difference between looking back and being grateful for the gift of salvation and exalting ourselves above others. His prayer sounds awful but can anyone of us admit that we have never fallen into the trap of self righteousness? We may not have said the words out loud. We may not have said it in form of a prayer. But in our hearts, we have exalted ourselves above the people we call sinners just because we sin differently.
- We haven’t spoken to our spouses for a few days due to unforgiveness but at least we are not homosexuals.
- We have not apologised to our boss for calling in sick when we were not actually sick but at least we have never committed fornication.
- We lied to our friend telling her we never saw her message but at least we don’t curse.
- We have assassinated the character of our neighbour because of a misunderstanding we had but at least we have never committed physical murder.
- We have not repented for disobeying the leading of the Holy Spirit but at least we don’t commit adultery.
“We are not like him/her“. The lies we tell ourselves.
We have categorised sin and made everyone else’s higher than ours. The same grace we seek desperately, we hoard from others. We are better than them, we think.
Comparison: I have caught myself several times identifying the people who need to hear a sermon because they needed to repent. In those moments, i compared myself to those people who i thought needed Jesus more than i did. He, she, they, them need to change. Everyone except me. Pride. The same that God despises.
Pride: At the heart of his prayer was pride. He wanted to be noticed. He attended church services, he gave his tithes and offerings, kept the law, was probably the first to come to church and the last to leave, the first to dial into the online services, probably he was the next in charge after the pastor. Church service couldn’t function without him because he was a key member of the church. He gave testimonies always. He fasted always. But all of these he did to be noticed by men, not because he wanted to please God.
The Tax Collector
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’
The tax collector identified himself as a sinner. But who really isn’t? He came exactly the way he was to God. No pretence, no pride. Just his sinful self and a contrite heart, the kind of heart God wants us to have. One that acknowledges the need for grace and mercy.
The tax collector didn’t come with a list of what he was doing right. Rather he came to ask for mercy.
Our righteousness is like a filthy rag before God. Isaiah 54:6
All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23
It is by grace that we are saved, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:9
The Pharisee did not go to the Temple to pray to God but to announce to all within earshot how good he was. The tax collector went recognising his sin and begging for mercy. Self-righteousness is dangerous. It leads to pride, casues a person to despise others, and prevents him or her from learning anything from God.
The tax collector’s prayer should be our prayer because we all need God’s mercy every day. Let’s not allow pride in our achievements cut us off from God.
If you would like to read previous parables, please click here.