The Tax Collector's Prayer
1. In this chapter in verses one through eight Jesus told a parable to his disciples so that they would pray without ceasing and not lose heart or be discouraged. The story Jesus told which we are studying today is the following parable given to those who believed they were righteous people and holy men, [yet] were conceited and looked down on others.
2. "Two men went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee. The other was a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed like this in his heart: 'O God, I am not a person who steals, an unrighteous man, who commits adultery like other men, and I give thanks that I am also not a person like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and I present a tenth of all my income,'" (verses ten through twelve).
3. The Pharisee elevated himself and turning towards himself, (which is literally translated as "in his heart,") he prayed that prayer about himself. He said, "I have kept the law of Moses," (Matthew 19:20). And, "I give thanks that I am not a sinner like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and I present a tenth of all my income."
4. "Pharisee" means "a person who is separated." As persons faithful to the law they devoted themselves to keeping separated from all those who were not clean. They were originally persons who held in high regard the law of God and would not make worldly compromises, but kept the commandments of the Lord with all their strength and with a pious lifestyle for their motto they prayed daily, had regular fasts and were waiting in hope for the kingdom of God. It is believed they were an assembly of followers who worked as laborers, farmers, and merchants in general and that there were back then more than six thousand members. The Pharisees would differentiate themselves as an elite group within Judaism and apart from those cursed who did not discern the law (John 7:49). Because associating with sinners who did not keep the law was a defiling of their own selves they kept themselves at a distance from them. Therefore, it was impossible for the Pharisees to understand how Jesus associated actively with people who were considered sinners by the public. (Mark 2:15-16), the Pharisees were zealous in studying the law. Many outstanding legal scholars turned out in great numbers from them. So, using written law and oral traditions, they interpreted in detail on the law of Moses on how they should live their daily lives. In The Acts Of The Apostles (26:5), Paul even says, "According to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived a faithful life as a Pharisee." Paul's teacher, Gamaliel, was also a Pharisee, (refer to Acts 5:34). The Pharisees were in the highest court and wielded great influence there. Furthermore, after the fall of Jerusalem, they moved at the center in the regional synagogues and they played a major leading role even up to these modern times in the rebuilding of Judaism.
5. In The Book Of Job, as it says there , "Would you even declare God guilty in order to show yourself innocent?," a very pious and faithful Job had a quarrel with Almighty God from the midst of his sufferings. In the same way, (Job 40:2, 8), while the Pharisees seriously wrestled with the law, they ended up forgetting to humble themselves. Don't we Christians make the same mistake? What was said by [that] Pharisee truly is also being said by Christians of today.
6. "On the other hand, while a tax collector stood far away, without attempting to lift his eyes towards heaven, and while striking his chest he said, 'O God, please have mercy on me a sinner.'" (verse thirteen).
7. The tax collector or tax collection contractor bought up the rights to enforce the tax laws from the state and collected the taxes from the tax payers. The tax contractor had the obligation to collect the full amount of the taxes, the amount contracted for during that year. Any surplus tax money became the contractor's. Whenever enough was not paid out, he had to shoulder the debt himself. A contractor's trade guild was organized and an extortion of taxes took place through hired hands. Those called tax collectors in the Synoptic Gospels, it is conjectured, were generally men hired by the tax collecting contractors guild of Rome. The tax collectors in the time of Jesus were affluent Jews who contracted out for individual commissions (on fees for the food stands in the market place, on fees for the transit tax) and for taxes (for business taxes, residential taxes, consumption taxes.)
8. As for Matthew the tax collector, Jesus called out to him "come follow me." He invited those called tax collectors and sinners of a great multitude to share in his joy. And they invited Jesus and had taken meals with him. The Pharisees saw this and became angry over it and said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher take meals with tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus heard this and said to the Pharisees, "It is not the healthy person but the sick person who needs a doctor. 'What I seek is mercy and not sacrifice,' (Hosea 6:6). The reason I have come was not to invite the righteous person but to invite the sinner," (Matthew 9:9-13).
9. The tax collector could not claim any kind of achievement or natural talent. When he prayed, he couldn't even direct his eyes heavenward. Though he verbalized sorrow that he had committed sin he strikes his chest and aside from his expressing himself this way he did not consider his words worth a prayer. In Luke 23:48, it has it that everyone in the multitude who gathered for sightseeing on Jesus [as he] was taking his last breath dying on the cross "saw these events and went home striking their chests."
10. What we experience in our day is while we are thinking how we must treasure our parents and treat them carefully, when they die off suddenly and when we greet everyone as the family representative after the funeral, during the greeting our words pause and we end up wailing. This "striking their chests" is similar to that same situation.
11. "O God, please have mercy on me a sinner," (verse thirteen). As the tax collector struck his chest he made his appeal to God that he was nothing more than a pitiful sinner and was earnestly seeking for forgiveness. There is no self reliance here. There is only repentance and a reliance upon God.
12. "However, if we walk in the light as God is in the light, we have fellowship with each other and we are cleansed from every sin by the blood of Jesus his son. If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not inside us. If we publicly express our sin, because God is truly a righteous being, he will forgive our sin and cleanse us from every unrighteousness. If we say we have never sinned, the word of God is not in us," (First John 1:7-10).
13. In the prayer of the Pharisee we cannot find a confession to God of personal sin. Totally the opposite, he was proud that he was a righteous man and he prayed a prayer where he trusted in himself as a holy person.
14. Paul said the following: "I was with respect to the law a member of the Pharisees, in the area of zeal a persecutor of the church, regarding the righteousness of the law there was nothing to criticize me for. ... There was in me not my own righteousness produced by the law but a righteousness that comes from faith in Christ, a righteousness which is given from God based on faith," (Philippians 3:6-9). Also, because of justification [by] "faith in which one believes on Jesus Christ," I reject justification "based on the works of the law." "Because not one person will ever be justified by the works of the law," (Galatians 2:16-21), he said.
15. In addition, Jesus said, "I tell you [this], The one who was justified and went home was this man and not that Pharisee. Whoever will elevate himself will be brought low and whoever humbles himself will be lifted up," (verse fourteen).
16. This is what is written about "whoever humbles himself." "The one I look upon is the person who suffers, the one with a broken spirit, the one who trembles at my word," (Isaiah 66:2).
17. "Thus says the One whose name is called holy, the exalted, worshipped and eternal One . I dwell high in a holy place and am with the person with a spirit that is broken down and humbles itself and I will grant life to the person with a spirit that humbles itself, and I will grant life to the person with a broken heart, "(Isaiah 57:15).
18. We rejoice in only the messages [from God] that are convenient for us and that we favor, and we tend to reject the messages that we don't like. But, that [attitude] is precisely what the Lord rejected. So I pray that we may be of broken hearts by the Word of the Lord which breaks to pieces our [carnal] expectations and that we may become imitators with fear and trembling of the Lord Jesus Christ who prayed "The will of the Father be done."
19. Also, God himself says that he will live with the person who is broken hearted and humble and will make the spirit and the heart of that person alive again. Making our spirit and heart alive again is done through the presence and the fellowship of the Lord himself. Since we don't realize this sufficiently we often rebel against the Lord and go down a selfish path. The Lord will break us down when we are like that. When one remembers the rod of the love of the Lord, the person who confesses his or her sin before the Lord -- as in the prayer of the tax collector who appears in the illustration given by Jesus -- will be broken and humbled. This is exactly what the path is when we take part in the grace of the Lord.
20. In the words of Jesus the sentence appears three times that "(whoever) exalts himself will be made low and whoever makes himself low will be lifted up." Matthew 23:12 is one example of that. This proverb is connected with the warning about the works of the Pharisees. When one lowers himself it is the same thing as being a person who serves. (Matthew 23:11) the person who makes himself low is a person who serves. This type of person will be lifted up by God. But, the person who seeks his or her own honor (Matthew 23:5-10) will be made low by God.
21. Jesus told many parables. But, many people did not understand the meaning of them, (Matthew chapter thirteen). The parable we studied today is a very easy parable. But, actually, hidden in the background to the meaning of this parable is the redemptive work upon the cross that redeems the sin of pride that the Pharisees had not perceived, the sin that the tax collectors had committed, and the sins of all of us. Jesus himself truly humbled himself before God the Father and was obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross. For this reason, God lifted Christ up and gave him an excellent name above all other names. Therefore, everything in heaven, on earth, and under the earth will bow to the name of Jesus and every tongue will declare publicly that "Jesus Christ is Lord," and will give praise to God the Father, (Philippians 2:7-11).
22. How does Jesus know the inside of the hearts of the Pharisee and the tax collector? In truth, Jesus knows all of our hearts. Through the words of the tax collector's prayer which was not really a prayer for him, today Jesus has us judge "ourselves" through the Holy Spirit and makes us persons who discern who we are inside. We are "sinners" redeemed from sin and forgiven by Jesus. Oh that there be glory in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ who fulfilled the message of the kingdom of God and of the righteousness of God!