To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like all other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
If you have ever read the editorial page of a newspaper, you’ve probably noticed a cartoon featuring a political, social or economic figure that carries a striking message that an author could not convey as well in several paragraphs.
Jesus drew verbal pictures of the world around him by telling parables. With this teaching he depicted what was happening in real life. He used stories, taken from daily life, with accepted and familiar settings, to teach new lessons. The lessons quite often came at the end of the stories and needed time for absorption and assimilation.
When we hear a parable, we nod in agreement, because the story is true to life and readily understood. Although the application of the parable may be heard, it is not always grasped. We may picture the story unfolding, but we may not perceive its significance. The truth remains hidden until our eyes are opened, and we see clearly. Then the new lesson of the parable becomes meaningful.
It is as Jesus told his disciples, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables” (Mark 4:11).
Jesus spoke in three kinds of parables: true parables, story parables and illustrative parables. The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is illustrative and uses examples that were to be imitated or avoided. Jesus focused directly on the character and the conduct of the individual. Moreover, in Jesus’ parables, it is not the beginning of the story but the end that is important. Jesus told the parables to communicate the message of salvation in a clear and simple way. This parable portrays two men, two prayers, and two results, and it gives the spirit in which men should pray.
The Pharisee takes his stand boldly, positioning himself as close as possible to the sanctuary. Whom does he address? Outwardly he addresses God, but inwardly he addresses himself about himself. He never refers to God again. Through his prayer, he congratulates himself. He does not confess his sin or ask for God’s forgiveness. He compares himself favorably to those of bad reputation.
Unlike the Pharisee, the tax collector stands at a distance. He is ashamed of his sins, thus ashamed of himself and stands with downcast eyes. He beats his breast in self-accusation and is near despair. Being deeply conscious of God’s presence, he takes hold of God in prayer. From the very depth of his being he cries out. “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”
It is with great emphasis that Jesus continues, “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.” God himself has pronounced this “publican” to be righteous. The Pharisee also goes home, but he has nothing! Better he had stayed home.
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, while he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14). Two men and two prayers, with two results!
Pastor Jake StirnemannOctober 1, 2020