The parable of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:
10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
My reflections on the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
In this simple parable, Jesus alludes to the hope we all have for a glorious eternal future. A chance to develop into all that God created us individually to be, and it all hinges on being justified before God.
I expect many will wonder what that actually means to be justified, and I can attempt an explanation by describing a job I had many years ago when I was employed by a high-street insurance company and worked in the claims department.
Every month I collected all the cheques our customers had presented in the previous month from the local bank. Then manually compiled a chart listing the date of the cheque, who it was issued to, and most importantly, the amount.
To help me, I had what was considered leading-edge technology at the time – an adding machine!
I tapped in all the numbers to calculate, and the crunch moment came when I eventually pressed the big red ADD button…
The number that appeared needed to tally with the amount we had recorded as being paid out the previous month, and if it didn’t, then my job was to find out why.
I had to understand any differences and justify the errors or reasons to my boss who would decide how to reconcile the matter.
It could take all day to complete this work – called the Cheque Reconciliation Process, which made right all the business transactions in the previous month.
But what has this got to do with the Parable of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee?
Whilst, the parable has a clear message about God’s forgiveness to those who confess their sins it also, has an underlying hint of God’s reconciliation with the world.
The parable plays out at the temple, and there was a place at the heart of the temple, an inner sanctuary called the Holy of Holies, it was understood to be the earthly dwelling place of God’s presence on earth.
The Curtain in the Temple
A gigantic brocade curtain embroidered with blue, purple, and crimson yarns separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple, and no one was allowed past the curtain except the High Priest.
The curtain had images of angels embroidered upon it and was attached by golden hooks to wooden posts overlaid with gold. The opening in the Holy of Holies was marked by four golden posts standing on silver bases.
Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies to offer a sacrifice of a lamb (or goat) for the sins of his people.
But, when Jesus died on the cross, the beautifully crafted Holy of Holies curtain literally and simultaneously split in two, from top to bottom.
This split of the curtain is a dramatic point in the history of the Christian faith, because, when Jesus died on the cross, he took upon himself the role of the sacrificial lamb and atoned for our sins. He became our High Priest, and the world was reconciled to him in a way impossible for us to properly understand. Our sins were forgiven, and all divisions between Jews, Gentiles, and Tax Collectors even were removed.
St Paul referred to this in his letter to the Hebrews when he said, ‘We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain’.
What does all this mean for us today?
You might have noticed a difference in how the two men prayed in the parable.
The Pharisee was not really praying to God. He was praying to himself and telling God how good he was.
However, the Tax Collector was in turmoil as he acknowledged his sins and so completely humbled himself before God. He was placing his hope and faith, not in anything he had done or deserved because he knew that he had done nothing to deserve what he so desperately hoped for.
Today, like the Tax Collector, we must humbly place our faith and hope in God’s mercy.
Because if we go about our lives believing that we are somehow superior to others, like the Pharisee, we will eventually hit a brick wall.
However, when we are content to just be ourselves and place our faith and hope in God, we will discover that God has amazing plans for us, and we can each become more than ourselves as we are reconciled (justified or made right) with God.
Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection are all part of this plan, and there is nothing, except a sorrowful spirit and humble heart, such as the Tax Collector displayed, that we can offer to fulfil all that God has planned for us.
How do we reconcile ourselves with God today?
Those who believe in Christ and that His death reconciled them to God automatically want to do their best to live a humble and righteous life following Christian values.
This simple way of living gradually hones our human imperfections, making us more Christlike people.
This way of living builds up the body of Christ on earth.
But we live this way not to be exalted in God’s eyes, like the Pharisee. We live this way for the pure love of Christ and all that he means to us.
When carrying out my cheque reconciliations all those years ago at the Insurance company, I had to justify all the entries and make everything right.
Today, with no comprehension of the divine formula applied, Christians worldwide believe that the world was somehow made right through Christ’s death.
It is through this, that we have the hope of a glorious eternal future. A chance to develop into all that God created us individually to be.
As God reconciled us to himself through Christ, so must we reconcile our hearts and minds to Him.
This is achieved by loving the Lord our God, with all our hearts and our neighbours as ourselves as best as we are able to all the days of our lives