9 Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ 13 But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
It is important to note Jesus was talking to a group of religious people who were trying to work out their own salvation. Observe the attributes of the two people in the story and see where you find yourself.
- Bases his standing with God on a comparison with others (verse 11)
- Doesn't have an honest evaluation of himself (do you really think he doesn't sin?) (verse 11)
- Tries to earn God's approval through good works (verse 12)
- Is is awe of God's holiness and power (verse 13)
- Knew he was a sinner (verse 13)
- Knows that salvation comes from God and not from his own works (verse 13)
This is a parable about humility and grace. It is a challenge to religious communities who stress morality and dogma in thought, word, and action. It is a condemnation against spiritual arrogance. The parable is also powerful good news for all sinners: from those who have messed up so bad only God can clean up the mess to the person who is doing his or her best, but knows that still isn't good enough.
A - Application
Two applications exist: a) Not to compare our spiritual condition to others and base God's approval of us on that comparison and b) to live a life of humility knowing that we are nothing more than a sinner in need of a savior.
P - Prayer
Oh God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner. Amen. (verse 13)