Luke 18: "Be merciful to me, a sinner!"
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
Since there are six episodes in this chapter, I want to focus on two episodes along the same theme, one a parable (Luke 18:9-14), and the other a story of Jesus’s life (Luke 18:35-43).
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 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!’ 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.”
Luke is sure to include many stories of unexpected reversal and irony like the parable above. The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is an ironic parable about a religious person who is not justified in prayer and an irreligious person who is justified in prayer. What is the qualitative difference? Are Pharisees bad? Nope. They’re not. Are tax collectors the new good guys? Still, nope. Jesus isn’t making a new set of always true categories out of reversals, ironic parables.
Like a joke, however, parables have surprising, sometimes disturbing elements and endings. The one we expect to know better, stands off to himself and says a prayer-brag (18:11): “‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’”
Meanwhile, the one we do not expect to know how to pray is the one who cuts directly to the heart of prayer. He doesn’t even come to the inner courts but stays far off outside the temple area.
The tax collector beats his chest and says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Often Jesus asks a question at the end, but in this case Jesus comments on the prayers of both. “This man (the tax collector) 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.”
Jesus heals a blind beggar
The second and last episode I want to highlight in this blog post has the same theme as the first. I find it interesting that twice in this chapter two different people are saying, “Lord, have mercy on me!” The wording is slightly different. The tax collector adds, “a sinner.”
The blind man calls out to Jesus and adds “Jesus, Son of David,” then says, “have mercy on me!” The blind man is not blind to the significance of how Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise that runs through David since the time of Abraham. People tried to shut him up, but he just got louder! “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
How persistent are we in prayer? Like the story of the unjust judge (18:1-8) who listens to the widow because of her persistence, Jesus orders the man brought close to him. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks the blind man. I love the man’s answer for its simplicity. “Lord, let me see again.”
Jesus says, “Receive your sight, your faith has saved you.” Are we to believe faith actually caused himself to see. No, the power of Jesus healed the man, but this is a great way for Jesus to point out the beauty of faith of a blind man, or any woman or man who has such persistent and strong faith to keep praying for God to pay attention.
Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner
So for centuries, Christians have spoken this Jesus Prayer that is a mash-up of these two prayers of the tax collector praying at the temple humbly, beating his chest, and the blind man, shouting all the louder for the attention of Jesus. The healing did not simply help one man but the healings of Jesus were revealing the kingdom of God, making it clear that Jesus was the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes and the promises of God.
So we may pray this prayer as we go through our day. When in 1 Thessalonians we see Paul saying, “pray continually” one way to do this is with mantra prayers through the day. This is one of those prayers I often pray throughout the day: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” I also pray this prayer for each of my family members most days. “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on Jill, a sinner. Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on Ashley, a sinner. Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on Anna, a sinner. Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on Jacob, a sinner.” Some days as intercessory prayer I’ll pray for my parents and in-laws, siblings, nephews, nieces, cousins, church members, neighbors in this way.
Here’s an activity for kids for a family devotional that can help you read the stories and match the principles for discussion of Jesus’s teachings.
What stood out to you about what you read this week? Did you think about anything in a new way?
Greg said the person who is happy, fulfilled and full, could be looking to be emptied. The Gospel is not just for the miserable. Do you believe this and why?
In what ways could we assist someone looking to be emptied?
Be an ear
By presenting the Gospel as an avenue that can be considered to be perused. A lot f times people don’t know what they’re searching or, and may feel vague and have hole that needs filling.
Are you prepared to share the Gospel with people who don’t look like they need it?
Greg talked about how hard it is for a rich man to enter into Heaven. He said where your treasure is, that’s where your heart will be also.
Not just riches concerning money, but the things or people you treasure or worship is what you will put all your efforts into.
God would like for our treasure/hearts to be connected to His.
When we honor God everyday and acknowledge Him before doing anything He has our heart.
What sod it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?
Are you rich towards God?
The condition of the heart is not determined by how good you can present the Gospel, but how fertile the heart is and it’s openness to repentance.
What are your struggles when it comes to riches?
How are you preparing your house for Jesus to visit?
Greg Taylor, M.Div.
Greg Taylor is the preacher for The Journey. He holds degrees in Print Journalism from Harding University and a Master of Divinity from Harding School of Theology. Greg is working on his Doctor of Ministry at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where The Journey is located. Greg is married to Jill, who is a math teacher at Broken Arrow High School. They have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob, and of course they are very proud of each of what God has done in each one of their lives. Greg is author of several books you can order from your favorite bookseller.