Sunday, September 06, 2009


Luke 18:9-14

Parables always tell us something about the kingdom of heaven. This parable speaks to the question of who it is who will be allowed into God’s kingdom. There is the self-righteous Pharisee and the tax collector. They go to the temple to pray. The Pharisee is honored and respected among the Jewish people. He is considered the model of religious propriety. The common man would like to be like the Pharisee. He would like to be treated the way the Pharisee is treated. The Jews looked up to Pharisees and want to find approval in their eyes. They think that surely the Pharisees will be among the first who are welcomed into the kingdom.

The tax collector is scorned and hated by the Jewish people. He was a traitor to the Jews who worked on behalf of the Romans. He was generally considered to be the lowest of the low; a dishonest man who sought to advance himself at the monetary expense of his countrymen. He was disrespected and considered to be a “sinner,” one who was ceremonially unclean. In fact, he was probably not supposed to even be in the temple because the Pharisees considered him a “sinner.” I’m surprised the Pharisee in this parable didn’t turn on him and have him thrown out of the temple!

Jesus tells about the prayer of the Pharisee first. Jesus describes the Pharisee as standing up and praying about himself. Even though he addressed God he was speaking about himself. Thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get. There is no sign of humility here. He stands boldly before his God and speaks about the things he doesn’t do and the things he does. He is better than robbers, sinners, and immoral men. He considers himself a worthy candidate for the kingdom because he doesn’t do a lot of evil things. He thinks himself righteous because he fasts and tithes. Everything is focused on his own behavior which he considers to be above reproach. He looks down on the tax collector and lifts himself up.

The tax collector wouldn’t draw near to the place where the Pharisee stood praying proudly. He stayed away, at a distance. His spirit was apparently rather low because he wouldn’t even raise his eyes to heaven. He didn’t talk about the good things he did and he didn’t draw attention to any self-perceived righteousness. Instead, he spoke about the condition of his heart. He beat his breast and said, God have mercy on me, a sinner. This man knew he was unworthy of the kingdom of God. He knew he had no righteousness to offer to God in exchange for citizenship in the kingdom. If he were to be allowed into the kingdom it would have to be entirely based on the mercy of God. He humbly cast himself entirely upon the mercy of God.

Much to the surprise of the disciples and whoever else heard this parable, it was not the Pharisee who would enter into Christ’s kingdom. He was arrogant and self-righteous. He didn’t call on the mercy of God because he didn’t think he needed mercy. If God was just he would be allowed into the kingdom. He would get justice. He would be cast out into outer darkness. It was the tax collector who would be justified. Why? Not because of his good deeds but because of his humility and his cry for God’s mercy. He would receive not justice but mercy because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Oh God, give me mercy, not justice!


At 11:11 PM, Blogger Yakimaniac said...

Dear Pastor Dave,
This is one of the most powerful of the parables. It always cuts me to the heart. My wife, Shelly, taught on this passage a long time ago and I have always remembered it. She said that the plea of the taxman can be distilled down to its essential elements. There are two.

The first is ", a sinner!" Here he recognizes his own unworthiness before a holy God. She said, “To know God in his holiness is to know ourselves as a sinner, to know Him as love is to see ourselves as unlovely, to know God’s wisdom is to see our own foolishness.” God is the standard and the taxman is painfully aware of his own shortcomings. This is similar to what Isaiah experienced when in Chapter 6 he received a vision of the throne of God and was devastated by it. “This is what happens when a sinner meets God. The tax collector comes face to face with God. The Pharisee does not. The Pharisee can’t see past himself.”

The second and most amazing element is what comes between “God,” and “me, a sinner.” The taxman asks God to ‘have mercy on me.’ “This may sound like a simple plea for mercy, but it goes beyond that – it is a plea for mercy on the basis of what God has done.” This is an explicit reference to the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant in the old Jewish temple and the blood of the Atonement that was ritually sprinkled upon it. “We could literally translate this ‘God, be mercy seated towards me, a sinner.’ When God looks down on this sinner He sees not the law that was broken demanding judgment but the shed blood providing satisfaction and forgiveness. “That’s why this tax collector’s prayer is so profound. This short little prayer contains all the elements of the way of salvation.”

Pastor Dave, you are so right that this parable shocked the pants off everyone who heard it. The unexpected conclusion is that those who are outwardly pious don’t make the grade. Their petitions are based on self-conceit not the reality of God and the reality of their condition before Him. Shelly reminded her class of Ps. 51, ‘the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit and a contrite heart’ and Isaiah 66, ‘This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my Word.’

But God accepted the outwardly wicked (at least perceived so) but inwardly contrite taxman based on his acceptance of the reality of God’s atoning sacrifice in Jesus Christ foreshadowed in the old temple rituals.


At 8:28 AM, Blogger Shiloh Guy said...


Thanks for an excellent comment on the parable. Shelly really did cut to the meat of the issue as Jesus presented it. Especially when she comments on the glory and majesty of God. Isaiah is a great example. Moses another; when God covered him with his hand as he passed by because "no man can see my face and live."

Mia and I were just having a discussion this morning about the great error so many professing Christians make when they think that salvation is all about God wanting to get them to heaven. We agreed that salvation is about God's demonstration of his grace and mercy!

At 8:40 AM, Blogger Yakimaniac said...

Exactly right. It's hard for us (even me) to remember that it's all about God and what HE does and has done, not about me. I participate in His work of grace when I submit to Him but He is the prime actor. (Calvin would be proud!)

You and Mia talk about such things in the morning (I am imagining before work)? Shelly and I just growl.


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