And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Jesus used parables to explain great spiritual truth. A parable is an understandable example from everyday life that demonstrates spiritual truth. The parable from Luke 18:9-14 is no exception.
The contrast between the Pharisee (highly religious person) and the tax collector was stark. On one hand, the Pharisee was well thought of and respected in the community. On the other hand, the tax collector, was hated, despised, and considered one of the worst. Yet, the tax collector left this experience in the temple as the one who was justified. Why?
1) The tax collector was humble. Jesus tells us that all who humble themselves will be looked upon by the Lord with grace and mercy. The Pharisee was haughty and arrogant. But the humility of this tax collector opened the door of God’s mercy. The same lesson applies to us today.
2) The tax collector was repentant. He stood at a distance and wouldn’t even lift his eyes to heaven while beating his chest. These are considered acts of extreme repentance and remorse in 1st century Palestine. The tax collector knew his plight and understood there was nothing he could do but beg for mercy. Consequently, this is what we must do to be saved. Repentance from sin and turning for sin are a must for those who would be saved. The tax collector demonstrates this attitude quite beautifully.
3) The tax collector cried out for mercy. He called upon God as he realized He couldn’t save himself. The sinner had no other recourse but to plead for mercy. The publican in this story represents sinners everywhere. When we exalt ourselves as the Pharisee did, we will be rejected by God. But, when we humble ourselves, repent, and call upon God for mercy He will save us, forgive us, and transform us.
Which person are you? Are you prideful and arrogant? Do you believe your goodness will be enough to merit God’s favor? Friend, our goodness and righteousness will never be adequate to deliver us from our sin and guilt. Trust in Christ’s mercy and forgiveness today. It’s the only way to be justified before God.