Text: Luke 18:9-14
Author: Mike Jorgensen
Luke is very clever with how he writes his gospel. More than a few times, we can learn the subject of Jesus parable in Luke’s introduction to the parable. When we examine the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, we see that Jesus is speaking to “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt”.
There is much that can be learned from this parable but today’s focus will only be on the issue of trust. In the parable, the Pharisee (religious leader) demonstrates where he has placed his trust:
- 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.
In short, the Pharisee thought he was worthy to go before God because he trusted in his character (that he was more moral than other men) and because of his works/religious disciplines (fasting and tithes). The story leads us to believe that this was not a far cry from the normal behavior of the Pharisees so this element of the story wouldn’t have been surprising to anyone listening. What did surprise was Jesus commentary.
Jesus tells of a second man who was also praying but this man was a tax collector (New Testament code for “sinner”). This sinner knew God was holy and perfect, and that he had no grounds for approaching God. Instead, he pleaded with God for mercy.
To the amazement of the crowd and offense of the Pharisees, Jesus says that this man (tax collector) went to his home justified rather than the other (Pharisee). What Jesus says here is profound. Religious duties (moral behavior, fasting and tithing) are not enough to justify us before God. This is an affront to every religious or philosophical idea that man has ever had about how to approach God. Jesus teaches that it is not moral performance that justifies us before God but rather our heartfelt attitude towards God and where we place our trust for righteousness.
This parable not only tells us Jesus message about how to approach God but it also teaches that our behavior reflects our hearts. The Pharisee’s attitude towards the tax collector was not in line with someone who has a humble trust in God, and it closely resemble “those who treated others with contempt” in Jesus audience.
This parable constantly serves as a reminder to me that although morality and religious behavior are important, those things are not the source of my righteousness. Furthermore, the way that I treat others will reveal the condition of my heart. I pray that this parable may comfort, challenge and direct you in these ways and more as you continue to grow in this Lenten season.