Luke 18:9-17 (ESV)
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 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. 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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” 15 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
Jesus taught another parable. This time, the parable was directed towards the self-righteous. By “self-righteous,” Jesus meant those who trusted in themselves and thought their admirable works were good enough for God. They didn’t need a savior because they believed they were righteous, so God was obligated to accept them into his kingdom. Jewish men at the time of Jesus commonly prayed prayers thanking God that they were not someone of a lesser status. Those who held this position were actually alienated from God, even though they didn’t realize it. They disdained those they considered lower than themselves. In Jesus’ parable, two men went to the temple. These men were complete opposites of one another and from totally different sides of life. The Pharisee was a religious elite, and the tax collector was a social reject, hated because of his profession. The Pharisee prayed, thanking God that he was so wonderful, even listing his righteous acts for God. The tax collector stood far off. He didn’t compare himself to anyone. He was only able to call out to God for mercy.
The audience must have been caught off guard when Jesus said it was the tax collector who went away justified and not the Pharisee. The parable clearly taught that no one is able to come to God on the basis of her own righteousness. No matter how good we believe we are, not one of us meets God’s perfect standard. God never calls us to compare ourselves with ourselves, but instead we are to compare ourselves with the requirement of his Law. When we do that, not one of us can say she has no need for a savior. And when we truly look into the mirror of God’s word, we see the ugliness of our sin and realize we too should stand far off from God like the tax collector. The cry of all humanity should be “God, have mercy on me!” True repentance, like the repentance of the tax collector, is demonstrated not by a sinless life, but by turning from sin to Jesus. Is there a broken tax collector in your life today? If so, let her know that you were there too, and God will hear her cry for mercy, gracing her with the desire to do things his way, freed from bondage to sin and death. What a savior Jesus is!