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, 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.’ 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.” Luke 18:9-1
Jesus’ parable sets up a comparison between two men. Two men in the same place, at the same time, praying. There are two postures of the heart, two attitudes in the head and two actions with the hands. Which one do you resonate with? James Boice says, “The parables break through mere words and make us ask whether there has indeed been any real difference in our lives. Isn’t that what we should expect, since the parables come from the lips of Jesus? No one was ever better than Jesus at getting through pretense to reality.”
The two men were opposites spiritually. The Pharisee was respected and revered; the Publican, despised and disrespected. Their prayers were opposite too. One was about himself and the other, a plea to God for mercy. One man felt spiritually rich and prideful, the other humble and poor in spirit. The Pharisee was boasting, the Publican begging. One couldn’t see his blind spots, the other saw his sin. Can you think of other ways they were the same or different?
The two men received different results. Jesus lands an unexpected ending for those listening. The despised sinner was the one justified and went home free and forgiven. The Pharisee was very religious but he was lost without Christ. Do you know Jesus as your Savior – the one who gave his life for your sins? We may think we are good people because we do good things but God says we have all sinned (Rom 3:23).
Which one do you relate to, the Publican or the Pharisee? Why? Are you trusting in your good works or are you trusting in God’s grace? Are you standing on your own two feet or bowing at the feet of Jesus? Different times in our lives we could most likely relate to either man. What reality is Jesus’ comparison showing you? If you relate to the Pharisee, pray for a spirit of humility using Ephesians 2:8-9. If you relate to the Publican, pray Psalm 51:17 with confidence that no matter what you’ve done God hears your cries for help and forgiveness.
By Donna Burns