Luke 18. 9-14
The Pharisee and the tax collector. Luke tell us that Jesus told this parable to those people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and viewed others with contempt.
In the book to the Romans chapter 10 vs. 3, Paul confirms that Israel missed the righteousness of God because they pursued it through works rather than by faith, “for not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.” “They sought to establish their own, “ pretty much says it about as clearly as can be said. We all know people who declare they have never knowingly done anything to hurt another person, as though that were true, or that it were the establishment of righteousness for all to attain to. In my understanding Jehovah has already established the standard for righteousness, no man gets to re-establish what the standard is. This is the very thing the Pharisees did. They rewrote the rules defining the Law so that it was achievable by themselves, therefore establishing their own righteousness.
Jesus said “Two men up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee,” as a note to understand the dedication of the Pharisees, they each had the entire Torah memorized, that’s the first five books of the Bible, which is no small feat, and then dedicated themselves to a life of keeping the Law, “ and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘ Elohim, I thank You that I am not like other men: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this Tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’” Now all of these things are good deeds and surely in tune with righteousness, and we can be sure this Pharisee followed all the sacrifices, and washings, and tithing as required by the Law. But as Paul reveals in Hebrews chapter 10.4 “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Isaiah 64.6 “ And all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags,” so all good deeds done by mankind with out the cleansing blood of Jesus is tainted by sin, and therefore unrighteous.
Continuing, “ But the tax collector, standing some distance away,” we need to understand here that there were few Israelites as hated as tax collectors. They were despised because they were Israelites who were turncoats, they were working for the Romans, collecting Roman taxes from their own people, and on top of that they were cheating their own people, with the blessing of Rome. They were snitches, narcs, stool pigeons, traitors, anything you can think of to describe a so-called brother who betrays you. So yes, he stood afar off, as the crowd could well have moved away from him. “ He was unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven,” also he was not an American, who readily bow their heads as a standard prayer position, but the standard Hebrew prayer position is to stand with head facing the sky and arms stretched upward calling on the Name of God. This man now with head bowed, “was beating his breast, saying, ‘Elohim, 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 one humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
A major point here in the difference between the two men is the Pharisee was looking for justice, according to his standard, while the tax man was looking for mercy. If we want absolute perfect, retributive justice, we are asking for death and hell for eternity, for there are none righteous, no not one. If we want mercy it will go much better for us, for we have a merciful and loving Master who will forgive our sins by His grace, sustain us through this life by His grace, and then take us to heaven to dwell with Him for eternity by His grace. We don’t deserve forgiveness but it is offered to us through the finished work of Christ. Amen