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Luke 18:9-14 – The Pharisee and the Tax-Collector

Jesus told a wisdom story of two men who went to the temple – a Pharisee and a tax-collector. The Pharisee is thankful he is not like others and then proceeds to listen to classic ‘sinner’ types – including tax collectors. He then indicates his self-perceived righteousness – fasting, prayer and tithing. To all appearances he is a righteous man.

The tax-collector stands far off – even where he stands indicates his alienation from God. His grief over his sin is indicated by his inability to lift his eyes to heaven and his beating his breast – the man is in distress and anguish. His prayer is amazing! Literally he says: “God propitiate the sinner.”

He calls himself “the sinner” – not a sinner. Whereas the Pharisee compared himself to others, as far as the tax-collector is concerned there is no other sinner – he refers to himself as ‘the sinner’ as if he is the only one.

Propitiate is an unfamiliar word. It means to take away wrath or judgment. The Tax-collector is asking God to remove his wrath/judgment from him which he as the sinner deserves. The Tax-collector has grieved over his sin in emotional anguish and cried out to God for the removal of his wrath/judgment. Jesus says this man rather than the other went home justified, that is, declared righteous.

What an upside-down kingdom it is. The man who seemed righteous is ultimately judged by Jesus as defective in his righteousness. The man who was a sinner under wrath goes home pleasing to God. As Jesus says: “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted”.