What's the Meaning of the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14)?

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In the first verse in this parable, verse nine, it reads "He also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and viewed others with contempt." Jesus is speaking to these people, not about them, directly confronting the religious hypocrite and the irreligious pagan. He is calling them to see that when they trust in their own righteousness, condemnation will follow.

We are to come to know only Christ through His righteousness. The Pharisee in this particular picture is comparing himself to men, not to God, but to men. Hypocrites always do that. They could find someone always that they are living in their terms better than. What we see in the picture of this irreligious man is yes, he's wicked, he's sinful, from the world, but he can't even lift his eyes up to heaven. He sees his sin so much that he cannot even look up to God. His prayer was so powerful in the original language. He says, "God, be merciful", literally, "God propitiate me, the sinner." Propitiation means to satisfy the wrath of God. He sees himself as under the wrath of God, Jesus talks about that in John 3:36, and sees he has no hope but the mercy of God.


The Pharisee doesn't even see his sin. The sinful man from the world, the irreligious man, sees his sin, is broken over it, repents by God's grace. Then Jesus concludes his parable with a great reminder. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted, and then makes the frightening statement, "That man went away justified". It's a reminder to all of us to be aware of hypocrisy. In fact, interestingly enough, there was no other sin in the New Testament that Jesus denounced more than religious hypocrisy. This is a warning to us.