The Gospel of Luke

This devotional is written by John Peters. John leads our church.

Luke 18:9-14

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'

13 "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'

14 "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

Reflection

At one level, like every religious person before or since, this Pharisee is entirely correct. He "is not like other people" (11). He does not steal or commit adultery. He does fast and he does tithe his income. He is not a collaborator with the Roman enemy - like the tax collector. He is religiously ship-shape and above board.

To a degree.

The problem with the virus of sin is that it recognises no degrees. All failure is sin and Jesus says, if you really want to make sure you have nothing in common with the person you despise the most, consider your heart. "For out of the heart come evil thoughts - murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander" (Matthew 15:19). And in reality, any self-aware person (and not all people are self-aware) would have to acknowledge multiple failures here. Who has not coveted someone else's possessions or life partner and who has not grudgingly engaged in spiritual disciplines like fasting or giving?

So, although the socially rejected tax collector might be only too aware that something is wrong with him – because no one trusts him and everyone shuns him – he is at least starting in the right place with his prayer – "God have mercy on me a sinner" (18:13). Ultimately as well, this man makes the right comparison. He does not compare his righteousness with that of the Pharisee but with the righteousness of God. In the light of God, he is a sinner. By comparison with the tax collector, the Pharisee is less of one.

But it is truthful humility that appeals to our God (18:14).

Meditation

The only value in our failure is it shows us something that is always true – that we fail. Therefore, we need the mercy of God.

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