Parables of Jesus – THE PHARISEE & TAX COLLECTOR

Our life is book-ended by two seasons where we crave independence but we just can’t have it, we wouldn’t survive. We enter this world in full dependence of someone, and most of us spend the last years of our lives also depending on others. What does this tell us about the time in between?

THE PARABLE

Luke 18:9-14 – “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, 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.'”

 

COMPARING THE CHARACTERS

These men represent polar opposites in the first-century religious culture. The Pharisee belonged to the most pious movement, a religious elite, while the tax collector was part of the most hated profession. Tax collectors were regarded as ceremonially unclean, on account of continual contact with the Gentiles, and their need to work on the Sabbath.

Our modern stereotypes of the Pharisees as self-righteous and legalistic must not blind us to the significance of this parable. Jesus’ original audience would never think of a conceivable scenario that would anticipate the tax collector as the hero of the story.

The Pharisee“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.”

  • He is standing ‘by himself’ – as to avoid being contaminated by others less pure than him.
  • He clearly thinks that God’s program wouldn’t move forward without his contribution, with a prideful heart.
  • He believes he is saved by his good works.

>> Jesus is not condemning the Pharisee for his gratefulness that he has not led a notoriously sinful life, nor for his acknowledgment of his own good works, but only for the COMPARISON which esteems himself as more valuable in God’s eyes than the tax collector.

Tax Collector – “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!'”

  • He is standing ‘far off’ – for he doesn’t consider himself worthy.
  • He beat his chest, a dramatic gesture that you men would not be seen doing unless in times of extreme emotion.
  • He sees himself as a sinner, he is displaying REPENTANCE:
    1. Acknowledging his identity as a sinner,
    2. A deep consciousness of personal sinfulness,
    3. Confession without qualification,
    4. Pleading for mercy.

>> His prayer echoes Psalm 51 – “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!…”

A RELIGION OF DEPENDENCE

American Christianity has been so confused with certain capitalistic economic principles that we forget a most significant fact–Christianity is a religion of dependence. Being dependent on nothing is not the ideal that Jesus taught, but rather complete dependence on God. This “weakness” in the world’s eyes is “beauty” in God’s eyes.

This parable emphasizes a great reversal. The one who brings piety, purity, obedience, and a prideful trust in these, is in fact farther away from God than the one who simply brings misery, weakness, dependence, and a humbled heart.

Luke 18:15-17 – “Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom like a child shall not enter it.'”

Notice how passive the actions of the infants are. They are brought to him by others. Today, we tend to have a romanticized vision of children, but it is important to understand the historical context. In the ancient world, children were viewed much differently–they were seen more as a means to security in old age, to income generation, to carry on the family name and traditions. They were also much less protected. The point that Jesus is making is that children bring nothing to the table but themselves and their dependence. They have not tithed or fasted, they have not taught many the laws of God, they can’t recite scripture or pray great prayers, yet Jesus says “whoever wants to inherit the kingdom of God must be like them,” not in their innocence and sweetness, but because of their utter dependence on the GRACE of another.

WHERE DO YOU STAND?

It may be easy for us to see ourselves as the tax collector, not proud and hypocritical, but are we more like the Pharisee than we realize?

Consider this story about a Sunday school teacher who taught a great story on this parable, and in closing he asked the class to pray with him: “Lord, we thank you that we have your word and your church, and that therefore we are not like the Pharisee…” 

The contradiction is obvious and perhaps makes us chuckle at the teacher’s incomprehension of the true teaching of the parable…but what is really ironic is that we then pray, “Lord, thank you that I am not like this Sunday school teacher, who did not even understand the parable…”

POSTURE

What makes you so confident you will inherit the kingdom of God? 

Darrell Bock writes: “The men take different positions. One is certain that he can approach God and almost demand justice as a matter of personal right. The other is so conscious of his unworthiness that he can barely approach God…Whichever one of these two attitudes has reflected our relationship with God in this life, the opposite will characterize our status in the next.”

  • If your posture in this life is unmitigated confidence in yourself to approach God & stand in his presence as you are, then the opposite will be true in the life to come. You will find no confidence and no ability to be in the presence of God.
  • But if your posture in this life is one of humility and unworthiness, with confidence merely in who God is, then in the life to come you will find confidence to approach God in the name of Jesus.

Luke 6:20-26 – “And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.'”

 

> When it comes to salvation, our confidence in ourselves will run short. Our confidence ought to be in God’s love, grace, and power. We can be confident because of who He is and what He has promised, knowing that we bring nothing to the table.


NEXT STEPS…

1.  Look Up:

  • What does it mean for God’s grace to be a FREE GIFT?
  • How does “the kingdom of God belonging to children” affect the way you understand God and his kingdom?

2. Look In:

  • What is this parable trying to shift in you?
  • What is your confidence in?
  • Is your community one that depends on Christ?

3. Look Out:

  • If our faith is one of dependence, how does that affect the way we live day to day?

 

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