The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

A businessman well known for his ruthlessness once announced to writer Mark Twain, “Before I die I mean to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I will climb Mount Sinai and read the 10 Commandments aloud at the top.” “I have a better idea,” replied Twain. … More


All during Jesus’ public ministry, He exposed the self-righteousness and unbelief of the Pharisees (v. 9). This happens again in the case in this parable. The people who lived near Jerusalem often went to the temple to pray. The temple was their center of worship. On this occasion , “Two men went up into the temple to pray” (v. 10). One was a Pharisee, and the other was a Publican (Not a Republican but a tax collector). When the Pharisee prayed, he told God and everyone who was listening how good he was (vv. 11-13). He  thought he was accepted by God because of what he did or what he did not do. He fasted twice a  week, and he tithed everything that came into his possession.

Jesus summarized the main principle of the parable: “For everyone that exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself will be exalted” (v. 14). We can paraphrase this verse as follows, If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to simply be yourself, you will become more than yourself. The world says, promote yourself, look out for #1. God says, humble yourself, seek Me first. This tax collector’s prayer should be our prayer because we all need God’s mercy every day. Don’t let pride in your achievements cut you off from God.

The Pharisee thought that the publican was a great sinner but instead, this humble publican was forgiven and justified (v. 14). The publican repeatedly smote his breast, because he knew what a great sinner he was and he cried out to God for mercy (v. 13). On the other hand, the Pharisee was ignorant of his own heart condition and his pride condemned him.


My prayer should be like the tax collector’s prayer because I need God’s mercy every day. I must not allow my achievements to cut me off from God. I am not to be concerned about what others think or do but just talk to the Lord and not care what others think. Also I just need to use regular conversation and not try to use big and flowery words.

Luke 18:9-14 (English Standard Version)

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."

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