The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Dr Justine Toh, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity, shares with us a personal reflection on the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, provoking us toward self-reflection and humility.

Do I recognise my own limitations or do I just keep barrelling on?

In today’s video teaching, Dr Justine Toh examines the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. This parable contrasts two types of spiritual wisdom: one that is actually wise, and one that just thinks it is.

When we read this parable it seems laughable that the Pharisee would parade his goodness and be so sure of himself in pleasing God. Yet in that very reaction is the surprising flip: in the certainty that is behind our judgement of the main character, we can easily mirror the Pharisee’s foolishness. In this parable, we are reminded that true spiritual wisdom is found in humility. We may each think that we know the path of truth and wisdom, yet how certain can we be? As we are surrounded by polarised messages and labels which cast anyone with a different opinion as “the enemy”, this parable is a timely reminder of where we find true connection with the heart of God: by truly owning our faults, our brokenness and knowing that we really don’t know it all. 

Engaging with the story:

Create some space this week to re-read the parable (Luke 18:9-14). When reading the parable imagine yourself in the story or teaching. Where would you stand? What do your surroundings look like? What can you smell or hear? What would you ask Jesus? Imagine yourself as the Pharisee, secure in knowing how to please God. Imagine yourself as the tax collector, weighed down by the awareness of your shortcomings.

Reflect and Pray:

As followers of Jesus, we rightly pursue justice. Yet in fighting hard for justice it is easy to fall into a polarised space of having little mercy for “the other side”. We can so easily forget that “the other side” is made up of people, just like us, who are likely doing their very best to fight for what they believe is right. Truly recognising and owning our brokenness and ignorance gives us the true freedom of humility. Whilst we are doing the best we know how, we acknowledge that ultimately we are all people and all equally beloved children of God no matter where we stand on an issue.

What are some injustices which you or your community are passionate about? Spend some time praying for those on the “other side” of the issue.

Reflect on a time when your view has changed or evolved. How did you encounter grace and support from people around you? Discuss how you can best show respect and grace to those with whom you disagree. Commit to supporting each other as a community to do this.

If you think this reflection would encourage someone else, please share:

Today's Reading: Luke 18:9-14

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:

10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’

13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Dr Justine Toh is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity. She worked at Fairfax Digital before completing her doctorate in Cultural Studies at Macquarie University. She speaks and writes about freedom and individualism, the body as a project, and other trends in contemporary culture.

This series has been produced by Common Grace and Bible Society Australia.

The Parables - A Lent teaching series from Common Grace