Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector that would have shocked his audience. He suggests that a tax collector who humbles himself is made right with God, rather than a righteous Pharisee.
Jesus teaches that we are to be humble before God and to recognise the equal worth of all his children. This week we explore how that affects our interactions with others, and how we choose to portray ourselves to God and to others.
Call to worship
We meet in the presence of God,
who creates us in love,
redeems us through faith
and sustains us with hope.
We come with joy and we come with sorrow,
sad at our failings, grateful for God’s acceptance.
May we know God-with-us as we join in worship.
A gathering prayer
Lord, as we come to worship,
help us to do so with humility.
Help us to see ourselves as we are
and remember before you that we are
weak without your power;
lost without your guidance;
nothing without you.
But with you all things are possible.
Prayer of Approach:
God of grace,
we come as we are:
in peace, or maybe in pieces,
in hope, or perhaps in hopelessness.
We know that you see our true selves,
even when we do not.
Holy one, Father, Spirit, Son,
we long to be in your presence,
to sing for joy to the living God.
Prayer of adoration
you astound us with your love and your grace,
your abundant welcome and your faithfulness.
You are constant and ever-present.
We worship you today
and will ever sing your praise.
Prayer of confession
Lord, we are sorry when we have considered ourselves
in any way superior to others you have made.
Forgive us when pride becomes the centrepiece of our lives,
and open our eyes to see where this is a danger.
We repent of our assumptions and tendencies
to claim the moral high ground, to judge rather than to love,
to use our words as ways to trample on others’ worth.
Forgive us and restore us, for in puffing ourselves up
we let your people down.
In Jesus’ name, restore us.
Assurance of forgiveness
God, who forgives all who are genuinely sorry,
cleanse our hearts and make us new.
We cherish your grace giving us a fresh new slate.
May the words we write upon it
be honouring to your name.
Prayer of thanksgiving
thank you for your care for us;
thank you that you love it when we are honest before you,
thank you that we can bring ourselves to you,
in the full knowledge that you know us,
you hear our sincerest cries,
and you care for each one of us.
Reading Psalm 65
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
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.”
Jesus teaches in parables to make us think – sometimes the story is explained and other times we are left with questions to ponder. The things that make us think and ponder are often the things that challenge us which is really important in our discipleship. So how does the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector help us to understand our own walk with God?
Two men went to the temple to pray – one was a pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee prayed an “I” prayer – it was all focused on himself…his prayer was not on God. In his prayer, the pharisee praised himself and compared himself to others. The tax collector however was the opposite of this. We can imagine that the Pharisee would have spoken with eloquent words and would have been summarised by others as a spiritual man. In contrast, we imagine the tax collector praying awkwardly, with stumbling phrases and fear; but his prayer pleased God. We are told that this man beat his breast: the idea being that he was so aware of his sin that he hit his own heart as a punishment. It was a continuous action, showing this man was full of sorrow for his sin.
The Pharisee thought he was not like other people; that he was better than them. The tax collector also thought that he was not like other people; that he was worse than them. The tax collector knows that he is a sinner and prayed with the whole of his being -body, soul and spirit: “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” The tax collector teaches us about putting ourselves right before God (confession) and the Pharisee reminds us not to have misplaced confidence but to find our confidence in God.
What can we learn from this parable? What can we do to boost our confidence towards God? Our growth in faith and maturity comes from the consistent showing up every day to reading scriptures, praying, pondering, discussing our faith with fellow Christians and living out our faith in our daily life: at the shops, walking around our community, in our workplace, at the ‘clubs’ we attend. All those things that we do week in and week out. All this helps us grow in confidence and more importantly growing in confidence in God.
At the end of this parable, Jesus says, “For all those who exalts themself will be humbled, and those who humbles themselves will be exalted.” Essentially, the Pharisee saw prayer and his spiritual life as a way to be exalted, but the tax collector approached God in humility. True humbleness is simply seeing things the way they are. The Pharisee saw himself as something great when he wasn’t, and the tax collector saw himself as a sinner needing God’s mercy, which he was. We gain nothing by coming to God in the life of pride. Afterall God knows everything about us.
So how does the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector help us to understand our own walk with God? We may wish to be something like the Pharisee, standing tall because society judges us to be ‘righteous’. We probably don’t aspire to be like the tax collector cowering in a corner. But Jesus’s parable challenges us about such attitudes. They are not important. What matters, Jesus says, is honesty: in recognising our shortcomings and in having the courage to own up to them and seek God’s help to overcome them. Then, perhaps, we will recognise out true worth – and that of others – before God.
Jesus teaches that we are to be humble before God and to recognise the equal worth of all his children. Let us ponder that this week in everything we do as we live out of faith and watch how we choose to portray ourselves to God and to others. Let us be more like the tax collector who prayed God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
Questions to ponder
- Who and why do you relate to in the Gospel story? ‘The Pharisee’ or ‘the tax collector’.
- Imagine you are the others in the parable now – in the crowd, or passing by– what would be your reaction to what you heard and saw? What would be your immediate or natural reaction to both men in the story, your opinion of them? What might that say about your relationship with God. And finally, can you identify any parallels in contemporary Church life?
Prayers of intercession:
Father, we come before you with well-chosen words. From the
comfort and calm of our ordered lives, we are composed as
we remember the misfortunes of others. We weave words to
describe their despair, to ask your blessing upon their need, your
healing upon their hurt, your light in their darkness. Yet more
potent than all our well-schooled phrases is the cry for mercy on
a sufferer’s lips.
Mercy for the sick in body or mind!
Mercy for those who cry out in grief!
Mercy for all who cower in fear!
Mercy for the hungry!
Mercy for those with nowhere to lay their heads!
Maybe, sometimes, we have cried these things from the depths
of our own need.
Today, we cry on behalf of all your suffering children.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers,
and may our cries come unto you.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
You, O Lord, are here among us.
You call us by name and you never give up on us.
We feel humble, because you are so awesome.
We place all our hope and trust in you.
Give us courage to boast about your love for us,
wherever we go, today and always.
© ROOTS for Churches Ltd (www.rootsontheweb.com) 2002-2022.
Reproduced with permission.