To read the texts click on the texts: Hos 5:15-6:6; Lk 18:9-14
The parable that forms the text today is knows as the Parable of the Pharisee and tax Collector but is not so much about these persons as it is about the disposition for prayer in any person. It is exclusive to Luke. The parable is addressed not to the Pharisees, but to those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt”. This could be a description of any self righteous person.
The two men who went up to the temple to pray are introduced as a Pharisee and a tax collector. Pharisee means “separated one” and the Pharisee in the parable takes this prayer position. He stands apart or by himself. Though he begins his prayer with thanksgiving, it is soon clear that it is not genuine thanks, but self centered. He is aware of the presence of the tax collector in the temple and regards him with contempt even as he prays. The Pharisee makes clear that he follows the law perfectly and obeys even the injunctions to fast and give tithes. He asks nothing of God probably because he thinks he is self sufficient.
By contrast the tax collector will not dare to come near but stands “far off”. This indicates his position before God. He does not consider himself worthy. While the commonly accepted posture of prayer was with hands folded and looking up to God, this tax collector stands with his head bowed and “would not even look up to heaven”. Instead he beats his breast in acknowledgement of the fact that he is unworthy and a sinner. His prayer is God centered. He cedes all power to God. He has nothing to boast about.
The comment at the end of the parable makes clear its intent. The Pharisee returned to his home without having been made righteous, but the tax collector was accepted before God.
Those who trust in their own righteousness will regard others with contempt, and those who regard others with contempt cannot then bring themselves to rely on God’s grace. Therefore, persons who exalt themselves over others and boast of their virtue before God will discover that they have cut themselves off from both, and persons who are aware of their need for grace and forgiveness will not be able to despise other people.
The nature of grace is paradoxical: It can be received only by those who have learned empathy for others. In that regard, grace partakes of the nature of mercy and forgiveness. Only the merciful can receive mercy, and only those who forgive will be forgiven. The Pharisee had enough religion to be virtuous, but not enough to be humble. As a result, his religion drove him away from the tax collector rather than toward him.