Theological Insights from a Modern Perspective

The Publican and the Pharisee

The Publican and the Pharisee

Luke 18:9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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. 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 every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

There’s not a lot to say here about this parable that hasn’t been already said. It’s a pretty simple lesson, the Pharisee goes to temple and brags about how good he is, while the Publican is too ashamed to even lift his head towards heaven. The listeners hear how the sinner is forgiven while the Pharisee is not. Simple.

People tend to start the reading with v.10 and miss the beginning in v.9: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.” Most people assume that the parable was directed to the Pharisees, but it wasn’t. Sure, they were used as an example, because most people do consider them to be a pompous self-righteous group, but Jesus was just using them as a contrast to the Publican, two polar opposites. This is delivered to all of us who think we are better than others, whether it is because of our station in life, our position in our congregation, or perhaps just because “we” are different than “them”.

gothEveryone knows people like this, or perhaps we know when we act this way. Whether the object of our contempt be someone who is racially, economically, or socially different from use; do they go to “that” church, or perhaps not go at all? We have a child in a wheelchair, and one day my wife took him to the doctors for regular paperwork needed for school. Now, our doctor’s office is just on the edge of the “bad” part of town, so she is always a bit nervous when she takes him alone. Well, this day she left the doctors and went next door to the McDonalds, coming towards her were two people she described as “gothy”, and made her a bit nervous. As she walked towards the door to McD’s (double door, one inside one out) the couple start running towards her, making her even more nervous. Then one of them shouted, “Hey! Let us get it for you.” Then they proceeded to hold both doors for her so she could go in without struggling. Talking it to me over diner that night she said that they were so much nicer than the “normal” people who just let her struggle with the doors, standing there waiting for her to get in/out so they could get by. Never again would she make such quick judgements.

How often do we misjudge people, thinking they are somehow less Christian than we are, simply because of how they dress, talk, how rich or poor they are, or any of the other values we use to judge people? God sees not what is on the outside, but rather that which lies within the heart. Whom do you consider less worthy than yourself?


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