It may be hard to conceive that we ourselves might be Pharisees. There are ‘essence of Pharisaism alive today, even active within creeds that embrace the divinity of Jesus, the doctrines of grace, and Trinitarian orthodoxy.’ The parable of two men exposes our own inner Pharisee in need of a Tax collector’s humility and repentance. Our inner Pharisee include our failure to practice what we preach, such that our hearers had better follow what we say or sing but not what we do(Matt 23:3). Our inner Pharisee’s preaching is more concerned with preserving human tradition than proclaiming God’s Holy Word thereby approve unrighteous means for what we think is a righteous end (Jn 18:2-3). At its heart, Pharisaism rejects God’s inner work in favour of external appearances (Matt 23:25), 

The parable of two men who prayed points to a structure that denigrates religious categories as determinative of one’s worth before God. The Pharisee did not go to the Temple to pray to God but to announce to all within earshot how good and loving he was. The tax collector went to the Temple recognising his sin and begging for mercy and not justifying his sin. The truth is that pride as displayed by the Pharisee makes us artificial but humility as displayed by the Tax collector makes us real. The tax collector was not justified by any of the deeds of the law, but by his repentant, humble approach before God, by acknowledgement of his sins, and by his faith in God demonstrated by calling upon His mercy for forgiveness.

It is possible for Satan to take what is good and push it to an extreme and make us proud and arrogant, conceited and self satisfied. Satan inspired the Pharisee to bring evil out of good, just as he was not an extortioner, unjust or an adulterer. Satan pushed Pharisee to the extreme by turning the goodness and glory of God into lasciviousness. The Pharisee in his pride and arrogance, conceited and self satisfied nature shut himself out of God’s kingdom. In contrast, God brought good out of the evil of the Tax collector who humbled himself, confessed his sins and begged for mercy.

The parable also suggests that a Pharisee and a tax collector discloses to us the virtue of goodness over godliness whereas, as Christians, we are called to a lifestyle and virtue of godliness and righteousness in Jesus Christ. This parable, though offers both comfort and warning, it mirrors the need for personal renewal which shows us who we are in the Body of Christ. The parable of the two men brings ‘hope for soul’s entanglement in habitual sin and a click of conscience in moments of self-satisfaction.’

Let us look at the identities of the two men who prayed in this parable. They are not completely parallel. It is noted that “Pharisee” is a religious identity while “Tax collector” is an occupation. Kent Hughes description of the Tax Collector in today’s culture is very challenging. Hughes said, “In today’s culture, the closest social equivalent would be drug pushers and pimps, those who prey on society, who make money off others’ bodies and make a living of stealing from others.” The question for us in this reflection is whether it is conceivable that one person could be both a Pharisee and a tax collector, the same way one might be a Roman a Catholic, an Anglican, a Pentecostal or a Methodist and an attorney?

Saul, a Jew, later called Paul was a zealous Pharisee and a contemporary of Jesus although he had not seen him. The two men, a Pharisee and a Tax collector in Paul and Wesley like in many lives today calls us to an overwhelming experience, warmed hearts that makes faith in Jesus Christ paramount in all aspects of our lives, preaching and ministry. The “Pharisee” in Paul and Wesley like in many others today, though as church goers, they do not go to the church or go into the ministry or preaching for the salvation of souls until the, “Tax collector” in them recognise their sins, repent, and beg for mercy. Beloved, I want you to know that ‘the Pharisee and the tax collector were figurative of typical attitudes that are common even in our age today.’ God is saying to someone, receive a humble heart for your pride.

Just as the intellectual and moral endowment of Saul and Wesley were of the highest order before their conversions, the parable of the two men in Luke 18 helps to dismiss religious categories as determinative of one’s worth before God. Religious zeal without repentance promotes fruitless religion just as Saul’s zeal for Judaism was a weapon of destruction and decline for Christianity. Just as the height of Saul’s opposition was the beginning of his devotion to Christianity, the height of your inner “Pharisee” may be the beginning of the recognition of your sin, repentance and request for mercy. Saul, acting with his Pharisaic education and conviction like many others today still don’t believe in Jesus, they regards him like any other teachers or prophets, even as a false Messiah, a rebel, ‘a blasphemer, who was justly condemned to death.’

The parable promotes occupational identity shaped by humble repentance of our sins. The sad new today is that many “Pharisees” depends on their religious identity in order to receive favour before God. God cannot be mocked or bribed by any religious acts and deeds, whatever a man shows, he shall reap.

In humble response, let us prayerfully sing together one of the hymns by Charlotte Elliott – (1835).

1.    Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

2.    Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

3.    Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

4.    Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

5.    Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

6.    Just as I am, Thy love unknown
Hath broken every barrier down;
Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.