Today’s Gospel parable has deep meaning and no word wasted. It has a message that challenges and hits the bull’s eye. Exalt yourself and you will be humbled. Humble yourself and you will be exalted.
The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is terribly contemporary, for it raises the shadow of two constant temptations.
The first temptation is thinking that we alone save our souls. Jesus’ parable is addressed to all who attribute to themselves as pleasing to God, all who lift themselves to heaven by their own bootstraps. It’s true we cannot be saved unless we want to, but even that wanting, that very desire, is God’s grace to us. It is Jesus who saves.
Now don’t misunderstand the parable. God will not mind if your prayer of thanksgiving sounds in part like the Pharisee’s: “O God, I thank you for all I am. I have such a high IQ. In looks I score 10. I never miss Mass on Sundays (despite your boring preachers), haven’t broken any commandment this year. I work for the victims of wars, and earthquakes, of typhoons and floods. I helped the poor and the lonely, the sick, the “sungit” and “pangit.” I even support the parish priest with all kinds of gifts.”
Not a bad prayer, but useless unless you add, day in and day out, “O God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am.” In your prayer of thanksgiving thank God for His mercy, from the birth of His Son in a stable, through his death on a cross, to his birth in your heart. Without that mercy, without God’s constant forgiveness, all your work would be worthless.
The second temptation is less subtle, a danger to everyday living — comparing oneself with others. Throughout history men and women have fallen prey in some measure to the Pharisee’s fault: “I am not like the rest of mankind.” Early Christians looked down on the Jews “rejected by God,” Crusaders on infidels they would massacre. Protestants and Catholics despised one another. The upper educated class looks down on the bakya crowd. And so on across the spectrum of human living.
Perhaps we can raise our prayer of thanksgiving to a high Christian level: “O God, I thank you that I am like the rest of humankind. I thank you that like everyone else, I too have been shaped in your image, with a mind to know and a heart to love. I thank you that, like everyone else, I too was embraced by the crucified arms of your Son. I too have him for a brother. I thank you that you judge me, like everyone else, not by my brains or looks, my clothes, the figures of my bank account, the size of my house and the model of my car, but by the love that is your gift to me, by the way I share the passion of your Christ. I thank you that, for all our thousand differences, I am remarkably like the people all around me.”
Luke 18:12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess
“This parable is not about hypocrisy; it’s about pride. By objective human standards, in terms of the number and frequency of rules kept, the Pharisee really was the more righteous of the two individuals! Yet according to the Savior: ‘I tell you, this man [the publican] went down to his house justified rather than the other [the Pharisee]: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.’ (V. 14.)
“I fear that, like the Pharisee in the parable, some of us who are relatively good at keeping the rules also trust in ourselves that we are righteous. Such are inordinately proud of their own goodness; they exalt themselves. But whenever we are proud of how good we are instead of being humbled by how imperfect we are (cf. “2 Ne. 4:17″2 Ne. 4:18″2 Ne. 4:192 Ne. 4:17-19), our hearts are not broken, nor are our spirits contrite.
Robert E. Wells
“If we are to increase in favor with God, we must resolve to overcome as much as possible the sin of pride. President Benson maintained that pride is the universal sin (Ensign, May 1989, p. 6). That means that every one of us, to one degree or another, suffers from the problem and must do all in our power to overcome its influence. As human beings, we have a remarkable capacity to fall under the influence of pride—even when we think we are in the safest of religious settings.
“I remember reading about the Sunday School teacher who taught her class that great scriptural lesson on the proud Pharisee who thanked the Lord that he was not a sinner like the publican, a penitent sinner who prayed for forgiveness. Jesus said the publican was more justified than the Pharisee (see Luke 18:9–14). The Sunday School teacher then suggested to her class that they should all thank God that they were not like that Pharisee! (See Robert J. McCracken, What Is Sin? What Is Virtue? New York: Harper and Row, 1966, p. 14.)
“Another story relates that a Carthusian monk, explaining to an inquirer about the distinctive features of his monastic order, said: ‘When it comes to good works, we don’t match the Benedictines; as to preaching, we are not in a class with the Dominicans; the Jesuits are away ahead of us in learning; but in the matter of humility, we’re tops’ (ibid., p. 14).” (“Resolutions,” Ensign, Dec. 1994, 65)
Joe J. Christensen
Luke 18:13 the publican…smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner
“How do you pray? Like publicans or arrogant officials? The Pharisee recounted to the Lord his many virtues. He was not an extortioner, unjust, an adulterer like the publican or other men. He fasted twice a week and tithed possessions. But the publican standing humbly in the background ‘would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ (Luke 18:13Luke 18:13.)
“In your secret prayers do you beat your breast and present yourself with your soul bared, or do you dress yourself in fancy coverings and pressure God to see your virtues? Do you emphasize your goodness and cover your sins with a blanket of pretense? Or do you plead for mercy at the hands of Kind Providence?
“Do you get answers to your prayers? If not, perhaps you did not pay the price. Do you offer a few trite words and worn-out phrases, or do you talk intimately to the Lord? Do you pray occasionally when you should be praying regularly, often, constantly? Do you offer pennies to pay heavy debts when, you should give dollars to erase that obligation?
“When you pray, do you just speak, or do you also listen? your Savior said, ‘Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.’ (Rev. 3:20Rev. 3:20.)
“The promise is made to everyone. There is no discrimination, no favored few. But the Lord has not promised to crash the door. He stands and knocks. If we do not listen, He will not sup with us nor give answer to our prayers. Do you know how to listen, grasp, interpret, understand? The Lord stands knocking. He never retreats. But He will never force himself upon us.” (October 11, 1961, BYU Speeches of the Year, 1961, p. 6.)
Spencer W. Kimball
TWO KINDS OF PRAYER: Prayer states one’s relationship with God. The way we pray reveals that relationship. The Pharisee prays as a character who “prays to himself” or “with reference to himself.” What he spells out is quite true: his observance of the Law goes beyond the legal requirements. But his prayer has been transformed into boasting. He has become full of himself that he seems not to need God anymore. Moreover, he assumes the role of judge and despises others. He reminds God of the deficiency of the tax collector, in case God has not noticed.
In contrast to the prayer of the puffed-up Pharisee, that of the tax collector is of utter simplicity and truth. Indeed he is a sinner. Indeed he needs God’s gift of righteousness because he has none of his own. In praying to God to have mercy on him, he asks God to give him what God “owes” him: mercy and forgiveness.
At the end of the story, the tax collector is the one justified by God, that is, God has placed him in right relationship with God. The Pharisee needed nothing and asked for nothing; he received nothing. The tax collector, by contrast, recognized he needed God’s gift of righteousness, and so he received it.
Source: 365 Days with the Lord