The Pharisee and the Publican

Scripture: Luke 18:9-14

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: 10 "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.' 13 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!' 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Meditation: What did Jesus wish to tell his hearers in the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector?  Luke gives us a hint: Jesus warns us about the danger of despising others.  Contempt is more than being mean-minded.  It springs from the assumption that one is qualified to sit in the seat of judgment and to ascertain who is good and just.  Jesus' story caused offense for those who regarded "tax collectors" as unworthy of God's grace and favor.  How could Jesus put down a "religious leader" and raise up a "public sinner"?  Jesus' parable speaks about the nature of prayer and our relationship with God.  It does this by contrasting two very different attitudes towards prayer.  The Pharisee, who represented those who take pride in their religious practices, exalted himself at the expense of others.  Absorbed with his own sense of "self-satisfaction" and "self-congratulation" he mainly prayed with himself. His prayer consisted of prideful boasts of what he did and of disdain for those he despised. The Pharisee tried to justify himself; but only God can justify. The tax collector, who represented those despised by religious people, humbled himself before God and begged for mercy.  His prayer was heard by God because he had remorse for his sins. He sought God with humility rather than with pride. This parable presents both an opportunity and a warning. Pride leads to illusion and self-deception. Humility helps us to see ourselves as we really are and it inclines us to God's grace and mercy.   God dwells with the humble of heart who recognize their own sinfulness and who acknowledge God's mercy and saving grace.  I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit (Isaiah 57:15).  God cannot hear us if we despise others. Do you humbly seek God's mercy and do you show mercy to others, especially those you find difficult to love and to forgive?

"Lord, may your love control my thoughts and actions that I may do what is pleasing to you. Show me where I lack charity, mercy, and forgiveness toward my neighbor.  And help me to be generous in giving to others what you have so generously given to me."

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(c) 1998 Don Schwager