Pharisee next door By Pastor dean
2 Luke 18:9-14; The Pharisee Next Door Here is the Gospel reading for today, from the NRSV: "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.”
3 I. Introduction--vv. 9-10 Two things seem to be true about this passage and the way people read it. First, it is probably the clearest, most unambiguous passage in Luke's Gospel affirming the theme of reversal of fortunes or the blessedness of the outsiders and the rejection of the insiders. And second, I have never met anyone who identifies him/herself with the Pharisee in this passage. The longer I thought about these two observations, however, the more dissatisfied I became. The statements seemed almost contradictory to me. After all, if everyone is rooting for a 'reversal of fortunes,' who really is the one that is going to get 'thrown down from the throne'? We all cheer on the 'little guy' in Luke's Gospel, but no one admits to being the 'big guy' that will be judged. So, who are these 'big guys,' i.e., the ones who will be brought low, who are sent back to their homes in an unjustified state? They seem only to be characters of caricature and not be real live human beings. Or they seem to be distant "oppressors" whom we really can't name. But because America goes ga-ga over rich people, we wonder if there really are any people who we could imagine having their fortunes reversed. It may very well be that the contrast between Pharisee and Publican in this story serves a useful pedagogical purpose--to inculcate virtues of humility and humble-mindedness--but I just wish I knew who these Pharisees were--today. The purpose of this bood of exposition is to
4 say that the Pharisees are, to use words of Paul, "near you, in your mouth, and in your heart" (cf. Rom. 10:8). This book will be verse-by-verse descriptions of each of the two major players in the parable. My goal is to try to bring them alive for us. I am afraid, however, that when I do so, we might find that the Pharisee sound frightfully like most of the people we know, and even ourselves. Proceed, if you dare.
5 II. The Pharisee--vv. 11-12 Luke has already provided us the interpretive frame in which he wants us to understand the story. He wants us to be unsympathetic to the Pharisee, to see him as a person absorbed in his own righteousness, a person despising "the rest" of the people (i.e., everyone not in his tight circle). But let's leave Luke's interpretation aside for a minute and look directly at the people before us. We don't have much to go on, but it is enough to tell us something. The first thing that strikes me about the description of the Pharisee is the numerous references to "I" or "self" in two verses. He stands off by himself; he thanks God that he isn't like others; he details his religious obligations. Is this bad? Listen to the way people talk; the "I's" often have it. He also makes sure to emphasize distinctions between himself and others. Ritual was very important to ancient Judaism, and ritual implies a world of purity (which you embrace) and impurity (which you avoid). Thus, I think the distinction between "me and others," which is at the heart of v. 11, is not only a natural human tendency but is one that we encourage our young people to make and is close to the essence of many religions. I recall saying to my own children years ago that we go to Church on Sunday morning, even though many other people do not. Distinctions are at the heart of human living. Finally, he tells us about his commitments.
6 He fasts twice a week and tithes everything. He is a "super" Pharisee, because the basic religious tenets were to fast once a week and to give 10% of what you grew. The Bible doesn't provide for the case of whether you have to tithe (i.e., give to the priest) 10% of the produce you buy, but the superliterate religious scholars decided that you ultimately didn't have to do so. But our Pharisee here tithes those other purchases, too. He tithes whatever he obtains. And he is proud of all these things. He is proud of his separation from others and proud of his extreme dedication to his craft (in this case, religion). But, the only thing that seems to be amiss is that along with the pride comes a species of judgmentalism and smug self-satisfaction that is kind of hard to bear. He doesn't just say that he avoids murder, adultery and unrighteous people (most of us would probably want to avoid these, too), but he has to put in a dig against the nearby tax collector--"and also this here tax collector" (my colloquial translation of the last words of v. 11).
I. Those that are accepted by God are those who put their trust in God’s mercy rather than their own righteousness (18:9-14).
The Pharisee is trusting in his own righteousness and so thinks he deserves salvation because of his own goodness (9-12) while the publican is trusting in God’s mercy and expects salvation only because of God’s goodness (13-14).
7 The word translated “trusted” means “to put confidence in” or “to become convinced of.” People often convince themselves that they have no need to rely upon God to save them because their own inherent goodness (see below) will be sufficient to save them. The Bible teaches otherwise by teaching that we are all sinful (Rom. 3:23) and under God’s condemnation (Rom. 5:16, 18, 6:23), that our works are tainted by our sin (Isa. 64:6) and that our righteous deeds are not enough to save us (Titus 3:5a). Something to think about: Even Christians sometimes rely on their works when praying or measuring themselves against others. Examine your heart and ask yourself what you trust in and do you realize that even your good works are the result of God’s grace working in you (Phil. 2:12-13)? Meditate on these verses from Proverbs: Prov. 14:16; 2 Cor. 1:9 (Many of the verses at the end of section II would also apply here).
8 II. Those who are accepted by God are those who humbly receive the kingdom as it is rather than making it what they want it to be or think it should be (18:15-17).
Children are characterized by certain qualities (e.g., trust, openness) and not by certain others (e.g., self-sufficiency). These child-like qualities are the ones that mark a person of faith. Too often we want the kingdom and its righteousness (Matt. 6:25-34) but on our own terms, as the Pharisee did. The kingdom, however, is the Lord’s and so must come on his own terms and we, to be a part of it, must accept it on his terms. The children here are to be equated with the tax collector of the previous story: trusting in another rather than self-reliant. The true believer shares these qualities. Something to think about: Children often know and accept their limitations but sometimes, as they grow, they begin to think they can do everything by themselves. We, as children of God, often think we don’t need help from anyone. Think about the church and why God has placed us together. How can you offer help to others through the church and what offers of help have you turned down? Have you considered that when you separate yourself from the church that you are separating yourself from the very means God has set in place to give you the help you need? Meditate on these verses about the folly of trusting in yourself or your strength: Psalm 20:7; 33:16-18; 52:7; Prov. 26:12; 28:26; Rom. 12:16
III. Those who are accepted by God are those who are occupied with God rather than their possessions (18:18-30).
The ruler has asked Jesus a question without considering his words. Jesus wants to know, “If you’re calling me good and only God is good, then are you equating me with God?” In pointing this out, Jesus is not only emphasizing his own deity, but is making clear the standard of
9 righteousness by which God judges: his own holiness and righteousness. Someone who is not as holy as God has no hope of eternal life. While this sounds discouraging, because no one is that righteous except for God himself (even the disciples were troubled by this in v. 26), v. 27 leads us to the point of what Jesus is saying: salvation is through Godâ€™s power and not our own power, wisdom, stature, influence, or wealth. Something to think about: Read Psalm 49 this week (pay careful attention to verses 6-10 and 1619). Also read 1 Tim. 6:17-19 for the proper perspective on how a Christian should think about money. Meditate on these verses about the folly of seeking wealth: Prov. 18:11; 23:4-5; Eccl. 2:1, 4-8, 18-19; 1 Tim 6:17-19. Also, consider what Jesus wrote to the church of Laodicea in Rev. 3:14-22, paying close attention to v. 17 and consider the fall of Babylon the harlot in Rev. 18:6-8.
Humility and Trusting All to the Father Three passages make up this discipleship section. In each case, figures provide examples. The Pharisee and tax collector contrast pride and humility. The blessing of the little children shows God's openness to all. The rich man shows how difficult it is for the rich to turn to God, while the disciples are the positive example of giving everything over to service for God. In each case, what is commended is putting everything into the Father's care. Such simple, humble faith is what God desires. The Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector (18:9-14) This parable, like the previous one, deals with prayer, but here the issue is the content of the heart as one prays. The parable is one of contrast and is unique to Luke. It contains
10 common Lukan heroes and villains. The hero is the tax collector; the villain is the Pharisee. Humility is the exalted virtue. The parable serves as a rebuke, since it is told to some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else. The Pharisees are the specific targets in Jesus' audience (Jeremias 1972:142-43; Josephus Jewish Wars 1.5.2 110).
What is most dangerous about pride is noted right at the start. First, we come to trust in our own abilities rather than trusting God. Second, we come to regard other people with contempt and disrespect rather than seeing them as created equal in the image of God. This is a danger inherent in professional ministry: ministers and other Christian leaders can come to look down on laypeople. Here we are reminded, however, that God honors those who realize that their ministry does not commend them before God or make them superior; rather, we are all the objects of his grace and mercy.
11 The parable takes place at Israel's most holy site, the temple. The two visitors are on opposite ends of the social spectrum. The Pharisee is a respected religious member in a most honored social group, while the tax collector belongs to one of the most hated professions possible for a Jew. The two prayers also make a contrast. The Pharisee is sure that he is a blessing to God: "I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, and adulterers--or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get." Clearly, God's program could hardly advance without this man's contribution. In fact, his prayer's form is revealing. It starts out like a thanksgiving psalm in which God is praised for something he has done. But the form is perverted, since the occasion of thanksgiving is what the man has done for God. Here is trust in oneself. His real prayer is "God, I thank you that I am so marvelous." In his own "humble" eyes he is not unrighteous. He fasts above and beyond the call of duty, twice a week, in contrast to the one fast a year on the Day of Atonement required of Jews. He gives tithes from everything (Lev 27:30-32; Num 18:2124; Deut 14:22-27). He probably tithes down to the smallest herbs (Lk 11:42). God needs to do nothing for him. He makes no request of God, he offers no honor to God. This religious man has done it all. After reading his prayer, we wonder whether God should apply to be his assistant! In contrast, the tax collector senses that he approaches a holy God, a great and unique being. This man comes with timidity, from a distance, not lifting his eyes to heaven. While the Pharisee had stood right at the front and addressed God, the tax collector beats his breast in an obscure corner to reflect his contrition. A similar sign of emotional
12 dependence in the New Testament is the lifting of hands to God to show one's need of what he provides (1 Tim 2:8). Both practices indicate an awareness of one's humble position before God.
The tax collector knows he is a sinner; the Pharisee is confident of his own righteousness. The contrast could not be greater. Here is another brilliant use of literary space and contrast by Jesus. The tax collector asks for mercy. He desires to improve his spiritual health, not rest on any personal laurels. He is aware that the only way he has access to God is through divine mercy (Dan 9:18-19). Such access is not earned; it is the product of God's grace. When Jesus evaluates the two prayers, only one petitioner went home justified. The tax collector's prayer honored God and was heard, not that of the Pharisee. To drive the point home, Jesus concludes, "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." Such reversals in God's judgments are common (1:5153; 6:20-26; 14:11; 15:11-32; 16:19-31). The parable's point is summarized in this
13 saying. The tax collector has a humble heart. He is honored by God. Since this parable is an example story, the call is to be like the tax collector. Receiving Children and Childlike Faith (18:15-17) In this short passage we see that God is no respecter of persons--not in the sense that he could not care less about them, but rather he cares for all of them. In ancient culture, children could be seen but not heard. They were left on society's fringe until they were old enough to be useful. This fringe role magnified the impact of what Jesus says here. If he has time for children, he has time for anyone. The child's age is indicated through a combination of terms. Though brephe usually refers to "little ones" who are babies (so NIV here), the other term used, paidion, seems to indicate that at least some of children are beyond the toddler stage. Second Timothy 3:15 uses the term "little one" to refer to Timothy's age when Scripture was read to him, so we need not think these were all infants. Mark 10:16 has some of the children small enough to be picked up by Jesus. Yet whatever their age, they were too young to be considered important by some in the crowd. The disciples saw the attempt to bring children to Jesus as inappropriate. Surely there was a better use of his time and energy. Such trivialities should be prevented. But the disciples had it wrong. They should not hinder the children's approach. Jesus turns the event into a two-level lesson, one about children, the other about disciples. The lesson about children is that they are welcome in God's kingdom. He is available to them. God's care for them shows that he cares for all. The kingdom is not only for adults.
14 The lesson for disciples is that children are good models for a disciple. Children trust their parents and rely on them. So disciples should rely on their Father. To be a part of the kingdom, we must receive it in the way a child walks through life. Entry is blocked to those who do not trust the Father. God accepts those who run into their Father's arms, knowing that he will care for them.
The Rich Ruler and the Disciples (18:18-30) This passage builds yet another contrast between the disciples and the response of others in the Jewish nation. The rich ruler represents the wealthy lay leadership in the nation and allows Luke to deal again with a theme that he has consistently kept before his readers: wealth and generosity (3:11; 5:11, 28; 6:23-26, 34-35, 38; 7:5; 8:3, 14; 10:34-35; 11:41; 12:13-21, 33; 14:12-14, 33; 16:9-13, 19-31; 18:22; 19:8; see Stein 1992:459). In fact, this passage reflects a theme that is central to Luke 18--19: the disciple's trust should lead to humble service (18:17). The rich man lacks the trust of the blind man of verses 35-43, as well as the penitent heart of Zacchaeus (19:1-10). The rich man's attitude is more like that of the Pharisee of 18:914. The self-confidence he reflects, along with his sense of sinlessness, is condemned by
15 Jesus. In contrast, by trusting and following Jesus, the disciples have given what he has asked for. They will have a rich reward, both now and in the life to come (vv. 29-30). Most of the account's difficult aspects come at the start. When the rich ruler calls Jesus good, the teacher rebukes him. Apparently Jesus wants to warn the man not to be impressed by human credentials--a problem Jesus will face later in his own life, when the Pharisees challenge his authority (20:1-8). Being excessively tied to credentialed teachers might distract the man from pursuing God. God alone is good; He is the One who deserves attention and allegiance, a key Old Testament theme (1 Chron 16:34; 2 Chron 5:13; Ps 34:8; 106:1; 118:1, 29; 136:1). Jesus is not replying to deprecates himself, but qualifying how the man views the teaching office in general. The teaching role, even for one who does it well, is not to be overly exalted. Jesus' refusal to accept the man's flattery also warns the man that Jesus will shoot straight with him.
16 More important is the man's question. It matches what a lawyer asked in 10:25: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" He wants to know how he can be sure he will share in the life to come. Jesus' reply focuses on the standard of righteousness as represented in portions of the Ten Commandments. Avoiding adultery, murder, stealing and lying, as well as the positive call to honor one's parents, are specifically noted. The spirit of Jesus' reply fits with what was said in 10:25-28, where the commandment to love God and others was cited more generally. In this context the reply is significant, because the issue of money, which will surface shortly, can make us view others as means to an end, rather than as people. So Jesus concentrates here on commandments dealing with how we relate to others. In fact, in Judaism honoring parents might imply financial responsibility for them in their old age (Tobit 4:3; Sirach 3:3-16; L. T. Johnson 1991:277). Jesus' reply has troubled some as being "too Old Testament" in tone. Where is the appeal to follow Jesus? One could argue it is implied in Jesus' words. By steering the man toward faithfulness to God, Jesus steers the man toward following him. Jesus could steer people to him through his teaching (6:46-49; 11:29-32) or remind them of the ethical standard God desires, as he does here. There is no contradiction in this for him. As Stein (1992:455) says, "For Luke true faith involved loving God with all one's heart and one's neighbor as oneself. . . . Likewise loving God with all one's heart . . . and one's neighbor as oneself involves faith in Jesus." To trust God means to rest in him and his way. To pursue such a path is not works, but relationship with God. The entry into grace and relationship saves; the path and pursuit of righteousness follow.
17 Now the man's problem begins to surface. He is confident that he can stand before God on his own merit: he has kept all the commandments since boyhood. His confidence recalls the Pharisee of verses 9-14: he has kept the law. Jesus wishes to check this confidence with a further demand that will reveal two things: (1) how generous the man is and (2) whether he will listen to Jesus. He still lacks something. Here Jesus is not asking the man to do something he asks everyone to do, since he will commend Zacchaeus's generosity in 19:1-10 without asking him to sell all. What Jesus does is test the man's heart and attachments. Is God placed ahead of worldly possessions in this man's life? Does the man really love God and others? So Jesus tells him that he lacks one thing: he must sell all his possessions.
18 But to stop here is to miss the point. Jesus goes on to promise the man treasure in heaven if he will follow Jesus. The need to come to Jesus, to trust him, is not absent from the passage. It is merely defined by reference to the obstacle that stands between the man and God: His security in his wealth. The man's response says it all. He is very sad. The choice is a painful one, and he refuses to consider it. Grieved at the options, he chooses his wealth. There is another premise in Jesus' response that may prompt the disciples' reaction. Wealth was generally seen as evidence of divine blessing and pleasure. If Jesus is implying that wealth is not such a guarantee, then how can one know God's blessing? Jesus had answered this question in 10:20 with regard to power, but here he raises it again with the issue of wealth and status, since to sell all and follow Jesus would mean that the rich man's social status would be changed forever. Jesus responds to the rich man's somber mood by driving the point home: "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" He looks at the man as he says it. Wealth and the false sense of security that comes with it can prevent one from meeting God. Jesus is not done. He explains that a camel can get through the eye of a needle more easily than a rich person can enter the kingdom. Now some have argued that Jesus is talking about a small gate at the entrance to Jerusalem named the "Needle's Eye Gate." But this view clearly blunts the force of his statement. How hard is it for a camel to go through a small gate? Not very hard, yet Jesus and the disciples agree that he is
19 expressing an impossibility, at least for human beings (vv. 26-27). So Jesus is using his common style of rhetorical hyperbole (compare 6:41; 17:2). The hyperbole here makes it clear that a rich man on his own will never make a choice for the kingdom. It is impossible. The priorities it requires demand a new heart. The disciples catch the tension and are shocked. If the rich cannot be saved and experience ultimate divine blessing, who then can be saved? If those at the top of the ladder who enjoy God's rich material provision do not get in, where is hope for anyone else? Jesus notes that God can do the impossible. He can change hearts and priorities. God's power and grace yield the change. People do not save themselves or earn God's blessing; God provides it. This is why Paul calls the gospel the power of God in Romans 1:16-17. Let me ask you a question. Are you being a Pharisee Today? Do you trust in your money, position, health, education? Do you think God is blessing you and nobody else? Letâ€™s learn from these passages and applying them to our own lives. Without the grace and love of Jesus we would all be lost. Turn to Jesus for your divine help, He is waiting for you.
Author: Pastor Dean. AA. BA. MDIV. DMIN
Bachelor’s in Liberal Arts of Biblical Studies Southern Christian University Awarded the “ West Creek Award In memory of W.B and Velma West, excellent teachers of the Bible and Biblical Languages Founder and CEO of FLYHIGH MINISTRIES . Masters in Divinity at Southern Christian University Iraq Combat Veteran, OIF III, Calvary Scout Recon.