The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

October 11, 2020

Luke 18:9-14

               We have been working our way through a series on the stories that Jesus told. So, as I was planning ahead, I looked for a parable that would fit the thanksgiving theme. While there is a lot in the bible about giving thanks, that theme is not covered in the stories that Jesus told.

               So, instead of breaking with the series, I thought I would look at the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, and look at “How not to give thanks.” There are good ways to give thanks, and bad ways to give thanks. There are ways to give thanks that will strengthen your spiritual life and will promote your emotional and mental health. There are also ways to give thanks that will alienate you from God and others.

               Let’s go to our story and look at how not to give thanks. This story is actually very instructive in terms of how to live in our world. I am trusting that God will speak to you through it.  

Luke 18:9 (NIV)

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:

               You know when a parable starts off this way that it is going to have a little bit of a bite. Jesus had a way of speaking directly into his culture. The culture of Jesus time was temple centric. Worship revolved around the temple in Jerusalem. The culture was synagogue centric. The way you learned what God wanted and what to do at the temple was through your local synagogue. It was there where you learned the law of God.

               A significant majority of people in Israel at the time of Christ were religious. Out of those came the keeners. The ones who followed all the laws and were proud of the fact that they followed all the laws, and they let everyone know that they followed all the laws. There was a sect called the Pharisees who especially fell into that category. They were confident in their own righteousness.

               We live in a different culture. I don’t meet many people who are confident in their own righteousness. – I have met some, but not many. But we do have a parallel to what Jesus is talking about in our own culture.

               You see, we in Canada are not temple centric. What is central in our country? – at least to many people is capitalism – we are money centric. We also have our fair share of individualism. It not about us it is about me. So, most of us are not confident in our own righteousness, but many of us are confident in our own abilities. We talk about being a self-made man or a self-made woman. We look at how hard we have studied, or how hard we have worked, or how much effort we have put in to accumulate what we have. The righteousness of our culture is working hard to get all the stuff.


               Back to our story,

Luke 18:10 (NIV)

10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

               We have talked previously in this series about the tax collectors. They were people who viewed as traitors because they collected taxes for the Roman oppressors. They were also viewed at, and probably rightly so, as cheats and thieves. They had the power to lie about how much tax people owed, keep the excess, and get away with it. They were the social outcasts.

               In our culture, although most of us don’t enjoy paying taxes, but we do not despise people who work for Revenue Canada. The tax collectors in our capitalistic, individualistic culture are the people on welfare, or maybe even the working poor. In some corners of our culture that tax collectors are first nations people, or people with different colour skin, or the immigrant. The tax collector is the inner city homeless or in the case of Lanark, people who live in rural shacks.         

               Going on in our passage Luke 18:11 (NIV)

11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed:

               You know you are Pharisee when you set yourself apart from others. When you set yourself above others.

               And now comes the worst thanksgiving prayer ever. Here is how not to give thanks.

Luke 18:11–12 (NIV)

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.’

               Worst thanksgiving prayer ever. I was going to call this prayer a humble brag, but there is nothing humble about it. This prayer is a thankful brag – which is not a thing. —- Except that it is a thing to the person who feels like they are a self-made woman or man.

               Lord, I am thankful for all my stuff. You know I worked hard and long for it. I am thankful that I am not like those other people who don’t put an effort into getting an education, and don’t work hard, and don’t even try.


               It always amazes me how much credit people take for their own success and how they look down on other people failures. They assume that we all start out with the same amount of advantages. And of course we don’t.

               Whether you had a dad if you did, a dad who was a good dad who taught you how to work, or an unpleaseable dad, or an abusive dad will affect your ability to function. Whether or not you had a mom. If you had a mom whether or not she was good mom, or a difficult mom, or a non-present mom makes a difference.

               The family that you grew up in, which you did not have a choice about, taught you to work hard, or not. Taught you to get along with others or not. Taught you to be virtuous or not.

               The body that you were born with – whether you are considered handsome or beautiful – will contribute to your success level. The brain that you were given, the emotional make up that you were given, whether or not you are predisposed to sickness or other genetic disorders all contribute to who you have become.

               The list could go on and on. Now, we are all responsible for using what we have been given – like in the parable of the 10 talents and the 1 talent. But we didn’t start off on equal footing. Even the hardships we face were not created equal.

               The Pharisees of our culture take pride in many things that were given by virtue of how and where they grew up. And they look down on others without any regard to the invisible damage that has been inflicted on them.


               What are two of the prime values of the Kingdom of God? – Humility and Compassion. These character traits will show up in a number of ways in your life. One of the ways that they will show up is in how you give thanks.

               Part of thanksgiving is recognizing that much of what we have is because of those who have come before us. Part of thanksgiving is not comparing what we have in a way that looks down at those who don’t have as much. Thanksgiving, when it is done well often moves us to compassion.

               I was sitting around a kitchen table in Cuba. There was a modest meal in front of us. For them it was a feast. The person who prayed said, Lord we thank you for this food. Lord we are mindful of those who don’t have food today. Be with them.

               I was convicted. Their thankfulness did not come out of place of pride, but one of compassion. Their thankfulness did not come from a place where they felt they deserved this. It came from an acknowledgment of the fact that God had provided for them.

               You may be able to tell from my size that I have not missed that many meals. I often pause to give thanks for my food – but really it is just what I do – when supper rolls around – I eat. I forget that what I have comes from the hand of God. Maybe some of you do to.


Back to our story. Luke 18:13 (NIV)

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.’

               The Pharisee stood apart because he thought he was above others. The tax collector stood at a distance because he believed what other people said – he wasn’t good enough. But he just sincerely talked to God. God have mercy on me a sinner.

               That is a picture of humility. God, I don’t deserve your love because I know who I am – but I am asking for mercy.

Luke 18:14 (NIV)

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.”

               The tax collector went home. The Pharisee went home. I don’t know if either of them were feeling any different. The Pharisee probably went home feeling justified in his own goodness. The tax collector probably went home wondering if God had heard his prayer.

               But Jesus gives us insight into the kingdom of God. God opposes the proud – and so the Pharisee went home, probably feeling good about himself – but God wasn’t feeling good about him – he was left unjustified.

               The tax collector went home and because humility is a prime value of the kingdom – God dealt with his sin. He was justified before God.

               Then Jesus makes this general statement. This is not only for Pharisees and tax collectors – all who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted. If you want to be someone of stature in the Kingdom of God – humble yourself.


               That is what is so great about thanksgiving. True thanksgiving always has an element of humility. You see, when we give thanks, we are giving thanks to someone. We are recognizing that something that we have came from them. When we start to take thanksgiving seriously, we recognize that the good things in our lives came from God. It combats our cultural tendency towards being self-made. It recognizes God for who he is, and it is an expression of humility. Giving thanks well is a great way to be firmly planted in the kingdom of God.

               It is thanksgiving. You can do thanksgiving in a way where it is all about you. But the kingdom of God is very different.  I would encourage you to be thankful – but not to make it all about you. Give thanks for those who have come before you. Give thanks for what has shaped you. But more than anything give thanks to God for he is the one who is with you.

Sermon Question for October 12th, 2020

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Luke 18:9-14

Note: There will be no sermon questions next week. Pastor Brent will be on holidays. Randy William will be speaking at Asbury.


1. What are you celebrating this week?

2. What would you like to see God do in the near future?

Digging In

3. Read Luke 18:9-14

4. Why was this parable told? (Verse 9) Have you ever, or do you know people who would have this kind of confidence? What are the signs of this kind of confidence?

5. The sermon equated people confident in their own righteousness with people who feel like they are “self-made.” Is that a good parallel? Why or why not?

6. Read verse 10 and 11. What do these verses tell us about the Pharisee? What does it tell us about giving thanks? What does it tell us about comparing ourselves to others?

7. Read verse 13. What does this verse tell us about the tax collector?

8. Read verse 14. What does this tell us about God? What does this tell us about our spiritual lives? When these men left the temple, do you think that they knew where they stood before God? What does this tell us about how we judge ourselves?


9. Humility and compassion are two of the most significant virtues in the Kingdom of God. How does the way we give thanks show whether or not we have these attributes?

10. How do we move towards humility and compassion?