the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

From my talk on 10-27-2013

Read Luke 18:9-14


Reverend Billy Graham tells of a time early in his ministry when he arrived in a small town to preach a sermon. Wanting to mail a letter, he asked a young boy where the post office was. When the boy had told him, Dr. Graham thanked him and said, “If you’ll come to the Baptist Church this evening, you can hear me telling everyone how to get to heaven.”

The boy replied, “I don’t think I’ll be there… You don’t even know your way to the post office.”

I used to watch a show called the Mac Davis Show. Some of you may remember it. The amazing thing about Mac Davis to me is he had a portion of the show where people would give him topics and he would write a song on the spot to the topic. Mac Davis had this song called, “It’s Hard to be Humble”. The chorus goes something like this:

“Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble

When you’re perfect in every way.

I can’t wait to look in the mirror

‘Cos I get better looking each day”

And what the song was about was about his fame going to his head and he thinking he was so much better than he was. At the height of his popularity people became star struck around him and assumed he could do no wrong.


We get like that sometimes. We believe we are so much better than we are. Or worse so much better than others. There is nothing wrong with being good or even great at things and perhaps patting ourselves on the back because we are doing so good. But did you ever think, why am I doing so good? Or why do I have this talent? Do you ever thank God for what you have?


In the Parable about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, the Pharisee thinks he is something special. He seems to think his is a gift to God himself. And he certainly thinks he is so much more special than the tax collector. The tax collector on the other hand is humble. He knows that he is a sinner and is asking for God’s forgiveness.

For you see, during that time period, Jews hated Publicans (workers for the Romans). And many publicans collected taxes and fees so the Jews called them tax collectors. Some greedy tax collectors would add on additional amounts to taxes and fees, which they would pocket for themselves. So tax collectors had a bad reputation. So perhaps we can see why the Pharisee thought he was so much better than the tax collector. Maybe the Pharisee wasn’t cheating or stealing from anyone. The Pharisee gave more than the Law of Moses required. Therefore he felt he was more religious than anyone. He felt he was doing so well he needed for nothing. When you ask God for nothing, you will get nothing. But you see, both of these men were sinners. Sadly only one of them would admit it.

As Joel B. Green, New Testament Scholar and Theologian says, the tax collector “recognizes his state of unworthiness before God and confesses his need for reconciliation”.


Have you been blinded by your own greatness? Have you been selfish with your talents and gifts?  I have. Recently my wife and I discussed in great length Christian Action. What should we be doing? I realize I have been selfish with my time. You know, it is funny but sometimes helping at church or helping others pulls us away from God. We get so busy with the action part that we no longer think about why we do it. We are to do things to the Glory of God. Not to punch the clock somewhere and say, yep, I helped a bunch of people. I am pretty awesome. That should get me brownie points into Heaven. Why did you help anyone? What lead you to do this in the first place? Are you like me? Sometimes you are so busy doing so much you don’t remember when you woke up or when you went to sleep?

Ernest Hemingway said, “I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?”

But if before we act we pray that our actions are a blessing to the Lord, and we humble ourselves before the Lord, our actions will be blessed and not only that, our loads will be lighter.

Last weeks parable about the unjust Judge was about praying. This week’s parable is also about praying but it is about praying humbly. Last week we were to pray without ceasing. This week as we pray without ceasing we are to pray humbly. We have nothing without God. The tax collector was at the altar praying humbly to God. ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

I don’t want to be like the Pharisee. I do not want to think I am something I am not. I don’t want to think I am so special or better than anyone. Sometimes we judge others so fast. We are not to judge. That is in God’s dominion to do. A Judge is able to pass down judgement and if need be, pass down punishment. If you are worthy to judge others, are you worthy to pass down punishment? Again, we are not. Only a perfect being is worthy to do so and the only perfect being who has walked on this earth is Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

I hope I am getting the point across I am supposed to be making.

One Sunday a man told the Preacher, “You are smarter than Einstein.” The Preacher was taken aback and said, well, thank you. But it bothered him all week. What did he mean I am smarter than Einstein? So the next Sunday after church he asked the man, what did you mean last week when you said I was smarter than Einstein.”

The man replies, “well, they said Einstein was so smart that only 10 people in the world understood him. Every Sunday in this church nobody understands you.”


I hope that wasn’t me today. Thank you for being here this Sunday.

Christian | Father | Tech Evangelist | Author | Public Speaker | Future TEDx speaker |WordPress Aficionado * I am the author of "WordPress: Setup to Website". I love all things tech and gadgets and I probably have an opinion about it which some people seek out. Follow @aroyrichardson