Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. 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 be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”

Luke 18:14

Two men, saying their prayers in a public space, but only one goes home “made right with God.” A Pharisee and a tax collector, opposite ends of the social spectrum in ancient Palestine—one of them full of himself, the other, hungry for God.

Reading this small but powerful story is a bit like looking in the mirror or looking at two sides of the same very tarnished coin. Because I can easily get my nose up there in the air, making comparisons with others, patting myself on the back for my spiritual maturity and practices. And in the very next breath, I can be overwhelmed by my own brokenness and deep need for mercy, mercy, mercy. I carry around an inner Pharisee and tax collector every single day.

Lent provides some dedicated space in which to look at that bifurcation within and to deliberately allow that tax collector more space to breathe. Repentance, fasting, and alms-giving are the three center poles of the Lenten season. I can choose to repent of my arrogance and pride, to fast from comparisons, and to give grace to anyone who rouses the hackles of that inner Pharisee.

You see, that Pharisee—the one in the story and the one in me—is so busy looking at the other guy that he is unable to see himself. He completely loses sight of his need for mercy and grace, glossing over his own character flaws, all while using his “prayer” time to focus on the flaws of others. The tax collector, on the other hand, looks only at his own wretched heart, begs God for mercy, and calls himself exactly what he is: a sinner, longing for forgiveness.

Dropping the Pharisee persona and looking honestly at that inner tax collector—this is what opens the door to real, heart-level change. For “being made right with God” is exactly how we become our truest self, more real and more like Jesus.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Do you do battle with an inner Pharisee? How do you keep that attitude from running amok? How much space do you give to honest self-reflection? Have you found it to be helpful? Why or why not?

PRAYER: Lord, you know me so well—far better than I know myself. Help me during these Lenten days to take time to look within, to admit my need for you, to ask forgiveness. And help me to kick that Pharisee to the curb, releasing my need to compare myself to anyone other than your son, Jesus, the one who came to show us the way to becoming more than ourselves and in whose name we pray. Amen.