Many times Jesus would use parables to illustrate spiritual truths. This parable in Luke 18, verses 9-14 is a parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. He starts in verse 9 which says, Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.
Jesus was targeting a certain audience: those who trusted that they were righteous and automatically despised and looked down on everyone else. We would call them “self-righteous.”
Verse 10 says, “Two men went up to the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.” A Pharisee was a very religious person. The word actually means “separated one.” Someone who would look at others as if to say, “Don’t get too close to me, you might defile me.” They thought they were better than everyone else.
The other man was a publican. Publicans were tax collectors and were known to be very evil, sinful people who cheated and defrauded. They collected taxes by any means and stuck a lot of what they collected in their own pockets. They were despised by most people.
Verse 11 – “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not like other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.”
It sounds like he was actually praying to himself, even though he had said “God.” Notice that he said, “I thank You, that I’m not like other men.” In other words, “I’m not a sinful man, I’m not an extortioner, not unjust, not an adulterer, and I’m not like this publican that’s right here. You made me better than he.”
And that’s what some Christians tend to do also. They think because God has cleaned their lives up and they don’t do some of the things that others still do, they think they are better than those still struggling with things.
The story continues in Verse 12 – “I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.”
Years ago, I caught myself praying like that, by listing all the things to God that I was doing right. As if to say, “Look how much I do for You!” Why were things going so wrong, wasn’t I good enough?
Then we come to the tax collector in Verse 13 – “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner!”
Notice, he stood a way off. He didn’t even go all the way into the temple. He was so ashamed of the things he had been doing that he wouldn’t even look up to heaven. When he smote his breast, it was a sign of repentance, a contrite heart, and a broken spirit.
Verse 14 says, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” The tax collector went home justified, righteous before God, in right standing with Him, forgiven by God.
The Bible says Jesus didn’t come to save righteous people but sinners, and we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. The tax collector humbled himself and found forgiveness and a pardon.
Grace is the free, unmerited favor of God toward people who don’t deserve it.
Romans 5:17 says, “They which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.” God offers us a right standing before Him through Jesus Christ. When we humble ourselves under Christ’s authority, all things are possible, and that includes an abundant life!