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Rays of Light Bible Lessons by Keith Holder


Luke 18:9-14 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 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. 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 lesson in this parable is directed specifically toward the self-righteous - those which trusted in themselves that they were righteous. Those, having a "holier than thou" attitude, despise others. They look down on all others because they have arrogantly elevated themselves above the world. They attempt to prove they are righteous by outward demonstrations for all to see. This description perfectly fits the Pharisee sect of the Jewish nation, and, in this parable, a specific Pharisee. Here is Jesus' description of Pharisees: ...all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi (Matt. 23:5-7). In Matthew 6:1-15, Jesus condemns all people that outwardly demonstrate good deeds for the wrong reason - to be seen of others. He speaks against those giving alms, praying, and fasting, all of which are good, but are sinful if done only to receive worldly praise. These are some examples of the self-righteous acts that were common practices of Pharisees.

The other person in this parable was a publican. If sinners were considered the lowest class of people, then publicans were their equals. They are mentioned together as publicans and sinners nine times in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Matthew also mentions them as equal to harlots, which is another lowest classification of sinners (Matt. 21:31-32). Publicans were tax collectors. They were Jews by nationality, but were contracted by the Roman government to assess and collect all forms of taxes from the Jewish people. To work for the despised Roman captors was a loathsome position to the Jews. To collect their taxes was even lower. Zacchaeus was chief among the publicans (Luke 19:2). Matthew was a publican that sat at the receipt of custom, referred to by the Pharisees as equal with sinners (Matt. 9:9-11).

So, here in this parable, we have two individuals, both Jews, but each at the extreme opposite ends of their religious spectrum. Both were in the temple offering their prayers to God. In order to prove he was a very religious Jew, the Pharisee, in his prayer, told God how much more righteous he was than all others, and how he observed all ordinances of the Jewish religion. By enumerating the sins he did not commit, and the commandments, which he obeyed, it appears he was obligating God to bless him for these outward acts of piety. He considered himself sinless, and without need of forgiveness. No doubt, as was the nature of Pharisees, he went to the temple, prayed aloud to be heard, and made his presence well known in order to be seen. This was the purpose of the Pharisee's prayer.

The publican, however, recognized himself as the lowest of sinners. Knowing his spiritual condition, he stood afar off, probably at the very edge of the area of the temple where prayers were made, considering himself as unworthy to approach more closely to the mercy seat of God. In his humility he would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven. In penitent grief, he smote upon his breast in a conscience effort to punish himself for sins he had committed. Finally he prayed, God be merciful to me a sinner. Like the Pharisee, the publican came to the temple to pray. Unlike the Pharisee that came to receive the praise of men, the publican came to receive God's mercy and forgiveness. The publican was justified; the Pharisee was not. Why? Jesus gives us the answer - for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. God does not see you as others see you - He sees your heart!