GOD REQUIRES THAT WE HUMBLE OURSELVESPART VI: THE PARABLES ON PRAYERTo some who were confident of their
Whereas the previous two parables taught persistence,
the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector teaches
honesty, humility and sincerity. Jesus knew that some people
trusted in their own "self-righteousness" and considered
themselves better than others. This precipitated the Parable
of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. It is found only in
own righteousness and looked down on
everybody else, Jesus told this parable:
"Two men went up to the temple to pray,
one a Pharisee and the other a tax
collector. The Pharisee stood up and
prayed about [to] himself: `God, I thank
you that I am not like other
men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or
even like this tax collector. I fast
twice a week and give a tenth of all I
"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.'
"I tell you that this man, rather
than the other, went home justified
before God. For everyone who exalts
himself will be humbled, and he who
humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke
18:9-14, New International Version).
There were two major groups of Jewish leaders in Jesus'
time: the Pharisees and the Saducees. The Pharisees were
conservative in their beliefs--they believed that the Jewish
Scripture was the Word of God. They believed in the
existence of angels, the supernatural and in the
resurrection. The Saducees were "liberal" in their beliefs--
they did not believe in the resurrection.
The Pharisees are mentioned about 100 times in the New
Testament. The word "Pharisee" means "separatist". They
were strict legalists who kept not only the Law of Moses but
also a host of man-made regulations. They also taught in the
local synagogues. Many were hypocrites during the time of
Jesus. (Turnbull, Gen. ed., PROCLAIMING THE NEW TESTAMENT,
THE GOSPEL OF LUKE, by Ralph Earle, p. 81). However, some
were sincere people such as Paul and Nicodemus.
Tax collectors were looked down on by Jewish society.
They were considered outcasts because they collected taxes
for the Roman government. They received a portion of the
taxes that they collected and sometimes they were
extortionists, that is, they collected too much money and
stuffed more than their share into their own pockets.
The original Greek text states that the Pharisee prayed
"to himself." (Turnbull, Gen. ed., PROCLAIMING THE NEW
TESTAMENT, THE GOSPEL OF LUKE, by Ralph Earle, p. 82). In
Palestine, the devout prayed three times a day: at 9:00 a.m.,
at 12:00 m., and at 3:00 p.m. It was supposed to be better
to pray in the temple. (Barclay, DAILY STUDY BIBLE SERIES,
LUKE, pp. 147 ff.? ). He then began to compare his behavior
with other people who did not measure up to his standard. He
mentioned that he fasted twice a week. The law only required
a fast one day a year--the Day of Atonement (Leviticus
16:29). By the time of Zechariah, Jews observed four fasts
per year. However, during the time of Jesus, the zealous
Pharisees fasted every Thursday and Monday, since they
believed Moses ascended and descended Mount Sinai on those
days. (Carr, CAMBRIDGE GREEK TESTAMENT FOR SCHOOLS AND
COLLEGES, LUKE, by F. W. Farrar, p. 331). THE PHARISEE
TRUSTED IN HIMSELF AND HIS OWN "RIGHTEOUSNESS."
The tax collector knew that he was a sinner and admitted
it. He cried out to God for mercy.
Jesus proclaimed that the tax collector was justified by
God and the Pharisee was not justified.The Pharisee made his basic mistake when he comparedThe Interpretation
himself with other people. The standard by which we must
compare ourselves is the absolute holiness of God. We all
fall short of his glory. That is why God must provide our
righteousness. Jeremiah prophesied the coming Messiah whose
death would provide our righteousness:
"The days are coming," declares the
"when I will raise up to David a
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in
In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety. This is
the name by which he will be called:
The Lord Our Righteousness.
(New International Version).
The position of the Pharisee and all others like him is
a very arrogant one. None of us can be as holy as God.
Unfortunately, many religious people feel that they are ok
with God if they obey a list of human rules and do good
The tax collector knew that he had done wrong and
therefore needed to humble himself and repent. Isaiah
For this is what the high and lofty
he who lives forever, whose name
"I live in a high and holy place,
but also with him who is contrite
and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the
(New International Version).
He placed his trust in God rather than himself. His faith
was manifest when he turned to God and asked for forgiveness.
God justified him. (Justification and righteousness come
from the same Greek root word that means to be made right
The Apostle Paul was a Pharisee who had kept the
external requirements of the Mosaic Law. He had not
recognized that Jesus was the Messiah and had gone about
trying to justify himself before God by keeping the Law and
doing good deeds. When he came to the realization that Jesus
had died for him, and that he must trust in Christ to receive
the imputed righteousness of Christ, he was justified and
finally found peace with God. Paul explains justification by
faith, in the book of Romans. (See Chapter I,
"Justification," in my book HOW TO RAISE YOUR SELF-ESTEEM:
PROVEN BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES, for a more thorough treatment on
Notice that one is either justified by God or not. There
is no middle ground. There are no degrees of justification.
(Trench, NOTES ON THE PARABLES OF OUR LORD, p. 183).
None of us can justify ourselves by self-effort. Human
reason would tell us that we can save ourselves. Actually,
autosoteric ("self-salvation") religions engender pride and
take us further from God. Let us walk humbly with the Lord
and seek to bring others to him. END