The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

“And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

In the Gospel of Luke chapter 18 has two parables that deal with prayer. Last week we looked at the first one “The Persistent Widow.” (Luke 18:1-8) In the persistent Widow Jesus is encouraging us to pray persistently without losing heart. “Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart.” (Luke 18:1) There is value in persevering in prayer as it shows the true desire of our heart.

This week we are looking at the “Parable of The Pharisee and the Tax Collector.” In this Parable Jesus is illustrating the right spirit that we should have in our prayers. At the conclusion of the Parable Jesus makes the point of the manner we ought to pray to be heard by God. “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14) If we do not pray in the proper spirit no matter how we persevere it will amount to nothing.

In this Parable we hear the prayers of two different men who have gone to the Temple to pray. (Luke 18:10) One of the men is a Pharisee and the other is a Tax Collector. The Pharisees were a very religious sect that held strict observance to the law and traditions of the elders. The Pharisee considered the Tax Collector to be an extortionist and a traitor. The Tax Collector was an extortionist because of their practice of collecting more taxes than what was required. They would use the excess for their personal gain. They were traitors because even as they were Jews they were employed by a foreign power, which was Rome.

The prayer of the Pharisee is found in verse 11-12 where we see his thankfulness that he is not like the other people of the day. He was thankful that he was not unjust, he was not an adulterer, and he was especially thankful that he was not like the Tax Collector who was at the Temple praying also.

Then the Pharisee prays to God about how good he is. He states how he fasted twice a week, even as the law only required him to fast once a year during the Day of Atonement. “This shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you.” (Leviticus 16:29)

In his prayer he reminds God that he is faithful in the giving of his tithe. The law only required a tenth on certain things but the Pharisee states that gave a tenth of all possessions. “You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. “You shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always.” (Deuteronomy 14:22-23) By the spirit of his prayer the Pharisee reveals that he trusted in his own self-righteousness.

As we look at the prayer of the Tax Collector we see the expressions of humility and repentance. (Luke 18:13) We note that he stood afar off where he was only heard by God and not others in the Temple. In that day it was a common posture to lift your eyes towards heaven as you prayed but in his shame the Tax collector bowed his head low. During his prayer he was in anguish over his sins and beat his chest. In his humility he called himself a sinner and pleaded for God to have mercy upon him.

The results of these two prayers are completely different. The Tax Collector went home justified. (Luke 18:14) He had received that blessing from God that David described in Psalm 32. “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit!” (Psalm 32:1-2)

The Pharisee went home with nothing. The only reward that the Pharisee may have gotten was that he was seen by other men praying, which would have been his only reward. “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:5)

Again we see the purpose of this Parable by the words of Jesus. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” There are some other things we should look at to reinforce Jesus’ point of the Parable.

Jesus has warned us against trusting in our own self-righteousness. The Pharisee should have recalled the word of the Prophet Isaiah. “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Isaiah 64:6) And we can recall the words of Jesus from the Parable of the unprofitable steward. “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.” (Luke 17:10)

There is a warning here against arrogance. The Pharisee despised others and especially the Tax Collector. As one who held strict adherence to the law the Pharisee should have recalled the words of Solomon. “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way And the perverted mouth, I hate.” (Proverbs 8:13) The Pharisee should have known the Law of Moses. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It is important for us to hear the Words of Jesus. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

How else can we as men approach God but in humility. Jesus taught the importance of humility in the Parable of the Guest. Now He is teaching the value of humility before God. This truth was written o us by the Profit Isaiah. “For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly And to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15)

The Pharisee prayed as one who needed no forgiveness and he received none. The Tax Collector prayed as one needing forgiveness and received it. We are all sinners every day and we need forgiveness. When we pray we need to pray in the humility of the Tax Collector who prayed as a man after God’s own heart as David. “Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity And cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me.” (Psalm 51:1-3)

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, May 18, 2017

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