Walking in Truth Devotional Update
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
Jesus was making His way to Jerusalem—the place where everything written about the Son of Man would be accomplished (Luke 18:31-33). Jesus had been teaching that men ought to pray and not lose heart and had just related a story about the efforts of a widow to get justice from her adversary in verses 1-8.
Our text concerns the character flaw found so often in many of us regarding trusting in ourselves while despising others (v. 1). The word “despised” means “to count as nothing,” and describes the religious egotism the Pharisees repulsively personified.
Are you that kind of person? Do you think you’re a good person? Are you confident that you are better than others? If you think the thing that separates you from other people is that there is some goodness in you that is not in them, you will become prideful, contemptuous and arrogant. But if you think that the only thing that separates you from those who are justly under the judgment of God is not in you but in God’s mercy, it will make you tender and humble.
This parable illustrates two different men, the Pharisee and the tax collector (publican), with two different attitudes: self-righteousness and humility who went to the temple to pray.
“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, 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!” Jesus then said, “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.”
There were some similarities of these men: Both wanted to stand before God, both approached God in the Temple, a place set apart for prayer. Both wanted to enter God’s holy presence. Both had a measure of self-knowledge that they were bringing to their prayers and both came with the intention to pray.
It isn’t that the Pharisee was speaking falsely, for everything he said was true. His fault was that he missed the true nature of his blessing. As Luke states in his introductory sentence, he trusted in himself. He located his righteousness entirely in his own actions and being. Look at what was missing: There was no sense of sin or need whatsoever in this prayer. There is not the slightest sense that this man has anything that he needs to be forgiven for.
The tax collector had no means to claim righteousness. He had done nothing of merit and had broken many commands of the law and therefore, threw himself on the mercy of the Lord praying, “‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!”. There is the presence of humility and the presence of God-focused trust. Do you remember David’s prayer for his sins regarding Bathsheba? “Be gracious to me, O God, because of Your loving-kindness.”
That is why Jesus said, “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.”
The world says, promote yourself, look out for #1. God says, humble yourself, seek Me first. This tax collector’s prayer should be our prayer because we all need God’s mercy every day. Don’t let pride in your achievements cut you off from God.
By Guy Roberson
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