Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector/Publican: Luke 18:10-14
Jesus tells this parable of the Pharisee and tax collector (publican) in order to teach about humility, contrasting it with pride. Jesus has just been talking about the End Times in Luke 17:20-37, and then proceeds to teach on the importance of being persistent in prayer in the Parable of the Persistent Widow. (Luke 18:1-8)
Jesus then tells this parable of the Pharisee and tax collector (publican). Based on the context, Jesus is telling this parable specifically to "some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt." (Luke 18:9)
Jesus begins this parable by comparing two men who both went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee says, "God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income." (Luke 18:11-12)
In contrast, "the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his [chest] and saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'" (Luke 18:13)
Jesus then makes his point: "I tell you, this man (the tax collector) went down to his home justified rather than the other (Pharisee); for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted." (Luke 18:14)
During this time period, most tax collectors were considered sinners, because most of them collected more money than the tax required. The tax collectors would then keep the extra money for themselves, thus making them dishonest and thieves.
In contrast, the Pharisees were viewed by many to be the spiritual elite. Thus, Jesus is making a strong point by saying that the tax collector is justified by his humility, whereas the Pharisee is not justified because of his pride.
The meaning of the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector can be found in the point Jesus makes at the end. "For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted." (Luke 18:14)
The tax collector admits his sinfulness, and his humility is a sign of repentance. However, the Pharisee views himself as righteous because of all these things he does; yet he is actually not justified because of his pride and contempt towards others.
Jesus' point is that the tax collector's humility, a sign of repentance, will cause him to be exalted as righteous before God. However, the Pharisee, who has exalted himself in his own view, will be humbled before God as a sinner, because of his pride and contempt towards others.
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