12.03.17 Lk. 18:9-14 The Prayers Of The Self-Righteous Pharisee And Tax Collector


Bill Heinrich  -  Dec 24, 2015  -  Comments Off on 12.03.17 THE PRAYERS OF THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS PHARISEE AND TAX COLLECTOR

12.03.17 Lk. 18:9-14




9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else:


A 10 “Two men went up to the temple complex to pray,

one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 


B 11 The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this:

‘God, I thank you that I’m not like other people  


C greedy, unrighteous, adulterers,

or even like this tax collector. 


D 12  I fast twice a week;

I give a tenth of everything I get.’


C’ 13 “But the tax collector, standing far off, 

would not even raise his eyes to heaven,


        B’ but kept striking his chest and saying,

        ‘God, turn Your wrath from me —  a sinner!’


A’ 14 I tell you, this one,

went down to his house justified rather than the other;

because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,

but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”


Literary style.[1]  Following the introduction is stanza A, in which there are two men, a Pharisee and a tax collector, both sinners.  In line A’, there are two men; the tax collector is made righteous and the Pharisee is not.  This is followed by the conclusion, which is a mini-poem.   In stanzas, B and B’ are two different manners of prayer: one is arrogant and the other repentant.  In stanzas C and C’ is the image of the tax collector who first compared himself to other sinners and then compared himself to an almighty God.  In line D is the self-righteous attitude of the Pharisee who kept all the Mosaic laws, which did not make him holy before God.


Many parables are based on Old Testament stories and themes.  For example, the Pharisee and tax collector of Luke 18:9-14 is related to the judgment and joyous restoration of Isaiah 66:1-6.[2] In this case, the Pharisee is not thanking God for anything, but rather, is telling God what he personally has accomplished. In the meantime, the repentant tax collector beats his chest in crying to God for mercy.  But that is more than a comparison of two men, it also warns the disciples of the danger of pride in their ministry.


Jesus again teaches that true righteousness is available for everyone and those who are in religious authority also need salvation. Salvation was/is a matter of the honest heart coming before God and pleading mercy, forgiveness, and a desire to live a repentant life. People remembered this teaching, because it was so radical from what they were accustomed to, and the words of Jesus were carefully spoken in poetic form for ease of remembrance by the listeners.  Most certainly everyone remembered the rebuke God gave the Israelites during the ministry of Isaiah, because they had fasted without a changed life (Isa. 38:1-7; cf. Mt. 6:16-18).

“I fast twice a week.” The Pharisees were known for fasting twice a week.[3]  The Talmud recorded the Jews fasted Mondays and Thursdays and this narrative has an interesting insight into the making and breaking of vows:


If a man undertook to fast on Mondays and Thursdays throughout the year and any of the festive days enumerated in the Scroll of Fasts happens to fall on those days, then if his vow was made previous to our decree his vow overrides our decree, but if our decree was made before his vow then our decree overrides his vow.


Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anith 12b


Mondays and Thursdays were also the local market days in Jerusalem, when many people traveled to the city to buy fresh food and other commodities. Hence, the Pharisees were able to make the greatest impact on the community by advertising their self-righteous piety. It is interesting to see how the primitive church carried on the tradition of fasting. The Didache, which was written as early as the mid-90s, states that Jewish believers fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays.


Let your fasts not take place with those of the wicked.  They fast on Monday and Thursday; you, though, should fast on Wednesday and Friday.


Didache 8:1


Clearly, they continued the tradition but refused to be identified with the leading Pharisees, whom they saw as being responsible for the judgment of Jerusalem.  The early church exploded with this kind of dedication and obedience toward God. It always played an important function in Jewish piety – and this was carried over into early Christianity.


“Kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me — a sinner!’ The tax collector approached God with a dire sense of need and humility. The original Greek for a sinner is as if the tax collector recognized himself to be the worst of all sinful humanity.[4] He realized that only God could give him mercy. This simple phrase epitomizes the Sermon on the Mount phrase, “poor in spirit.” The collector’s spirit was impoverished and only God could help him. In essence, he is profoundly humble.[5]

In this parable, Jesus again elevates the meaning of righteousness. The cultural meaning is for one to observe the biblical code of ethics, such as giving to the poor or expressing kindness, especially in situations when it would not be expected.  However, Jesus introduced a new definition of righteousness – that is to have an ongoing relationship with God. The self-righteous attitude is one whereby one assumes he or she has a relationship with God, often by some form of legalism, when in fact that relationship does not exist. Righteousness (Gk. dikaiosyne) is defined by a number of terms such as uprightness, upright, just acquitted[6]  or as one might say in a simplified manner, “as if I never sinned.” In the parable, the self-righteous Pharisee, encumbered with legalistic laws, believed he was in right relationship with God while the tax collector passionately desired the right relationship.

[1]. Bailey, Poet and Peasant. Part II, 142; Fleming, The Parables of Jesus. 39.

[2]. Three other examples of Jesus’ parables that are based upon Old Testament are as follows: 1) Luke 15:4-7 the parable of the Good shepherd is based on Psalm 23, 2), the prodigal son of Luke 15:11-32 is related to Jacob’s life in Gen. 27:1 – 36:8, and 3) the two builders of Luke 6:46-49 is related to Isaiah 28:14-18.


[3]. Mt. 6:6; 9:14; Lk. 5:33; Jn. 7:18; Acts 27:9.


[4]. Barclay, “Luke.” 224.


[5]. Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 4, Session 1.


[6]. Brown, “Righteousness, Justification.” 3:352-54.

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