"And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. . ."
Pharisees were one of the most respected people in society. Everyone thought the Pharisees were very righteous men. They were typically self-righteous and legalistic, flaunting their own "good works" before others to make themselves appear superior. Jesus referred to them many times as hypocrites.
In Luke 18:9-14, the Pharisee made the wrong conclusion in his comparison between himself and the tax collector. The Pharisee was unaware of his own sins, but very aware of others’ sins. This is very characteristic of a self-righteous person. The Pharisee was depending on his works and feeling that they gained him favor with God. He made himself righteous in the sight of men, but God knew his heart.
Righteousness is not the result of self-righteous activities one might perform or the result of the things you don’t do. If you have that attitude it is legalism. The publican was probably the least respected member of society. He was a Jew who worked for Rome collecting taxes. He was viewed as a traitor. This man was afraid to approach God, standing at a distance, knowing that he was unworthy to come before God. He was unwilling to lift his eyes which showed his humility while beating his breast–––the outward sign of an inward pain in ones’ soul.
The parable concludes with these final words: “for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” We cannot fail to learn from the publican’s confession and personal sense of sin. Here is a sinner’s cry for mercy and His great mercy is shown–––for only Jesus can save sinners. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us . . .” (Titus 3:5).
Lord, thank You for Your immense mercy upon a sinner like me.