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 tells this parable which describes one who is rich in spirit contrasted with one who is poor in spirit. Since it is a parable it is important we understand the context in which it is told, to whom He is speaking and about whom He is speaking. Parables are often interpreted in a way which makes them walk away from their meaning.
Beginning in Luke 14 we see Jesus drawing a sharp distinction between those who say they worship and know God and those who truly do know and worship Him. There is a running argument between the Pharisees and Jesus. Many stories and illustration given in the Gospels show the disparity between the teaching of the Pharisees and Jesus. From the feast to the lost coin, sheep and son, the healing of lepers and the persistent widow, Jesus continually draws a distinction between the two camps.
Jesus’ discourse found in Luke 15-17 illustrates the difference between sin and repentance, and faith and obedience. Those who do not worship God, though they will say they do, do not understand that before you can be found you must be lost. Before you can repent you must acknowledge sin. Also, where faith is true the evidence of faith, obedience, is obvious. Where obedience is lacking there can be no faith. Saying you obey is not good enough. Changing the rules so it looks like you are obeying is still rebellious. No one can jump over repentance straight to obedience. The process is sure. First comes acknowledgment of sin, then repentance. With repentance is faith. The evidence of faith is true obedience.
Jesus then moves on to Jerusalem where He knows He will face His passion, the final sacrifice of Himself for the world. This is the reason He came and the culmination of His life on earth. While on His way He cleanses ten lepers, telling them to show themselves to the priests. Only one returns to Him to praise God for his healing. He is then asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come. Jesus is speaking to His disciples with the Pharisees present about the coming of God’s kingdom drawing a sharp distinction between those who are accepted into the kingdom and those rejected. He tells them a parable about the persistent widow and about the Pharisee and the tax collector.
In the second parable two men come before God to worship Him. One is self-righteous, saying he has done all and more than God requires. He thinks he has fulfilled the written law in all its aspects. He may have. But his attitude goes beyond simply doing the laws. He compares his righteousness, as measured by the his own interpretation of the law, with the unrighteousness of the other man in the story.
We do not need to imagine the history of either in this parable. They have no history. The other man is a tax collector who recognizes his sin before a righteous God. His life is black with sin. There is nothing he can do to take away his sin. Even keeping the law perfectly cannot take away the judgment of God against his sin.
The first man needs on the law not God. The second know he needs Gods mercy but also knows his sin keeps him away. The first did not know he was under God’s judgment and wrath. The second recognizes he deserves only God’s judgment and wrath. The first asks God for nothing. The second pleads for his life beating his breast and begging for mercy.
God’s mercy and grace coupled with our faith and obedience places us in a unique position before God. There is a real and true relationship. Jesus tells us we can ask God for anything in His name. This is not a blank check giving us the right to expect anything we want. Grasping after our wants is rebellion. Wanting what God wants motivates the desires of those devoted to Him. Jesus’ statement is surrounded by everything God wants for us, nothing the world has for us.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. [John 14:12-17 ESV]
Notice God promises us the Spirit of truth. Having His Spirit will motivate us to do what He does. We love Him by doing His commandments. There is no place in the thinking of our hearts for the world’s or our own selfish expectations. Eternity has room only for what God wants which is pure and undefiled, righteous and holy, untainted by sin, selfishness or self-righteousness.
Yet, honestly examining our motives will reveal the extent of our selfish, self-centered, self-absorbed rebellion against Him. It is wholly appropriate we beg for mercy and acknowledge His grace.
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 18:14]