The high muckety-muck Pharisees were arrogant religionists. While demanding that others follow all the back-breaking rules, they knew the secret loop-holes. They were skilled at publicly demonstrating their piety, and even better at concealing their iniquity.
Jesus looked at the Pharisees and quickly saw their utter hypocrisy. Their hearts were absolutely sin-filled! Wholly unholy!
Speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus didn’t pull his punches! “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44, ESV).
That’s who Jesus was speaking to in Luke 18. Listen!
“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted’ ” (Luke 18:9-14, ESV).
Jesus compares the hoity toity, pompous, religious elite with the outcast of society.
The Pharisees turned Jesus’ stomach. The humble outcast broke Jesus’ heart and moved Him to compassion.
The Pharisee was so proud that he thought God owed him a great debt of gratitude. The Tax Collector was certain that God owed him nothing. He only hoped for God’s mercy.
This parable teaches us how we must approach our Holy God. We must come as the tax collector. Broken. Contrite. Unworthy. Weeping with shame and remorse.
Yes, we are beckoned to come boldly into His presence (Hebrews 4:14-16). And yes, as His beloved children we are invited to snuggle up close to our Father (Matthew 6:9). But, be careful! Check your heart!
We wouldn’t mosey into the Oval Office and say, “Hey Donnie, I paid my taxes last year... and I know the Pledge of Allegiance. So, here’s what you need to do for me today! Chop! Chop!”
God is God! Eternal! All-powerful! All-knowing! Holy!
The parable teaches us that only “the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14, ESV).