The Parables of Jesus: Day 18

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector


Today's Text: Luke 18:9-14, Luke 7:36-50

In this study of the Parables of Jesus, we are reading many of the stories Jesus used to teach hearers about how to live as His followers. Each day we’ll read parables in their immediate context, focusing on a different category of parables each week. Then we will work through a series of questions to understand the meaning of the text and take to heart the “secrets of the kingdom.”

Editor’s Note: In this Parables study, Jesus Himself is telling us stories—stories He wants us to reflect on and process. Rather than asking our writers to write their own stories about Jesus’ stories, we thought it would serve you and the text better to provide questions to help you dig into the meaning of each day’s parable. If you find a parable or passage particularly confusing, stop and pray. Ask the Lord to reveal Himself to you in His Word, and thank Him that we can know Him without knowing all the answers to our questions.


Week 3: Parables about following Jesus

Many of the parables Jesus told have to do with what it means to follow Him in this life. Addressing topics from anxiety and fear, to compassion for our neighbors and commitment to the truth, Jesus uses common scenarios and familiar places to teach His disciples how to live as His people. Each parable in this week’s daily readings speaks to the Christian life in some way. Use the questions below to help you dig deeper into Jesus’ teaching.


Day 18 Reading: Luke 18:9-14, Luke 7:36-50


1. What are some key differences between how the Pharisee and tax collector see the world? In what ways are you like the Pharisee in this parable? In what ways are you like the tax collector?

2. To whom does Jesus tell this parable, and what is the parable’s outcome?

3. What is the central point of this parable?

4. What was the audience’s response to hearing this parable? What is yours?


  • Those sitting at the table where unaware of who Jesus really was, but the woman knew from the moment she saw Him who he was. It continues to come back to the attitude of the heart and recognizing the need for a true saviour.

  • “Let me further say that, inasmuch as that salvation of God is a great one, it must have been intended
    to meet great sins. O sirs, would Christ have shed the blood of His heart for some trifling, venial sins
    which your tears could wash away? Do you think God would have given His dear Son to die as a mere
    superfluity? If sin had been a small matter, a little sacrifice would have sufficed. Do you think that the
    divine atonement was made only for small offenses? Did Jesus die for little sins, and leave the great
    ones unatoned? No, the Lord God measured the greatness of our sin, and found it high as heaven, deep as hell and broad as the infinite, and therefore He gave so great a Savior. He gave His only-begotten Son, an infinite sacrifice, an immeasurable atonement. With such throes and pangs of death as never can be fully described the Lord Jesus poured out His soul in unknown sufferings, that He might provide a great salvation for the greatest of sinners. ” Spurgeon

  • Here’s my takeaway from today… the more I realize the magnitude of my sin, the more I will realize the forgiveness from God.

  • The other side of this is that we are all sinful and we can’t get away from that. The current trend is to deny that sin exists (if something is labeled sinful we are judging those do it and calling them bad). This is part of the blindness that people have when they don’t have the Holy Spirit to convict them of truth. We can pray for this conviction to stir our own hearts and those around us.

  • I can see the theme of self-righteousness clearly in both of these passages. Self-righteousness is so dangerous because it prevents us from realizing the depth of our sin. For many years I struggled with this because I was a “good Christian girl,” carefully checking my boxes each day and thinking I had to earn my salvation by good works. After college, God began to reveal to me the weight of my sin and that salvation is a gift to be received through faith in Jesus, not to be earned. Jesus’ words in Luke 7:47 really resonate with me. Until we realize the depth of our sin, we can’t truly appreciate the forgiveness God has freely given us and the deep love He has for us. Until we realize how utterly sinful and unworthy we are, we can’t understand the magnitude of the gift we have received. I’m so thankful for God’s mercy towards me. When I remember that His forgiveness and grace cover all of my sin, I’m overwhelmed and humbled. It’s a truth I need to be dwelling on every single day.

    • Susan

      “It’s a truth I need to be dwelling on every single day.” Yes, indeed I do as well!

    • Christina D.

      Kristi thank you for your response. I can relate to a lot of what you said. I still struggle with feeling like maybe people who have had harrowing life stories and radical conversions experience God’s forgiveness and love more than I do, being brought up in a Christian home. Your comment helped me to really internalize that though my life looks so different from another’s, the weight of my sin is equal. I have an opportunity to experience God’s love and forgiveness just as any other human being no matter the journey to redemption. We can all equally cry “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” Thank you for sharing.

  • How often do I really humble myself before God and before other people? In this society it is almost frowned upon to humble yourself; it is believed that you must build yourself up to get anywhere worthwhile in society. But in living a counterculture faith we are asked to humble ourselves. Do I cling to Jesus’ feet with the same humility and repentance as the tax collector? Do I pour out my heart and love and need for Jesus in the humblest of ways as the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair? Amidst all the facades we show to the world that portray us as strong, independent, and capable, how can we then turn and show God our weaknesses, dependency, and need for Him? We end up bringing our facades to God as we do to the rest of the world. Humble and broken, without a facade, is where God wants to meet us so He can restore, heal, and build up; He is the creator of beauty from ashes. It is only from His hand that we find peace, forgiveness, and righteousness.

  • Christina D.

    “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” I know the Lord’s prayer was how Jesus said we should pray. And I know most of us have heard versions of the sinner’s prayer. But this, the most simple, honest, and deeply humbling line speaks volumes of the heart. Every time I hear this prayer I feel called to postulate as the tax collector does. It is humbling for me. Because I do see myself in both the Pharisee and the tax collector, like many others have said. But only when my heart and spiritual posture is one of complete humility and surrender do I experience the vast love and forgiveness of God. Lord, let this prayer be my life’s breath prayer. Let it ever be in my heart and on my lips. With every step let me remember that You have had mercy on me, a sinner.

  • I love these two pieces from Luke together because they tell a comprehensive story.

    We love because we have been forgiven (this is so helpful. It’s not that we are forgiven because we love! Such a good example of Sola Gratia. The saving comes first, and the goodness comes out of that). And the more we are forgiven the more we love because we have more gratitude. But that actually requires us to *understand* how much we are forgiven and what a gift that is. This is where the tax collector surpasses the Pharisee. And because the Pharisee doesn’t fully appreciate how much he has been forgiven, he is hard hearted and judges others as lesser.

  • I am like both the Pharisee and the tax collector at times. It just depends on what I am using as my standard for comparison. When I compare myself against others and their sins, I tend to feel like I am not that bad. (Just like the pharisee who felt he was better than others.) However, when I compare myself to God and His standard of holiness, I am undone. I become like tax collector who recognized and repented from his sin. Also, when we look at ourselves from God’s perspective and not our own, not only do we recognize our own shortcomings, but we also recognize that all sin is equal. So, then with that mindset, we can’t ever think we are better than someone else because our sin isn’t “as bad as” someone else’s. It keeps our hearts humble and in the right place- both in our relationship with God and with others.

    • Meg

      This is exactly what God laid on my heart as I read today as well. When I’m in a quiet time of prayer with Him, I understand my place and I rejoice in it. But then I treat my family like my opinion is the right one and somehow better than theirs. A bit of uncomfortable reading today, but something I’m going to continue to pray about this week.

  • It is so sobering to realize that all sin is sin. I’m sure that receiving that idea from Jesus was very difficult for the pharisees because their whole religious identity was founded upon being “unlike other men” (Luke 18). However, as Jesus shatters our perspective of sin, he also restores us to hope. The hope is that because we are all redeemed from a state great of sin, we are all capable of loving greatly! As I read, I was praising God that because of Jesus invitation to relationship and restoration, I no longer, like a pharisee have to rely on my own efforts to perfect myself to set me apart in the eyes of God. I now can rely on a great love that comes from Jesus setting me apart for God. And I also get to see the ways that others are uniquely set apart for God by the ways they relate to the great love of Jesus.

  • Love these verses, so humbling

  • Churchmouse

    May I never forget that God looks at my heart as well as my actions.

  • It’s so easy to qualify and rationalize my sins because theres always someone who’s done slightly worse than I have. It’s easy to think ” I’m not that bad” and that’s where the danger of thinking like a Pharisee comes in. If I’ve offered little forgiveness for what I perceive to be petty sins, then I’m worse off than those who may have done worse and repented authentically. Lord be with me in my comparison, forgive me for trying to love justly without you.

    • LT

      Amen! Wonderfully stated. Thanks for sharing!

    • Cassie Kendall

      I love this! I think so many of us who grew up in Christian homes feel like we never did anything “wrong.” We may have been blessed by our upbringing and avoided many of the sins our peers fell into. I personally fell into this category, and growing up I felt like Jesus didn’t really save me from anything. I was just “good.” Yes I did some things wrong now and then, but I didn’t feel like any of it was that big of a deal. But WOW, is that wrong! All sin is sin, like you said. We ALL need Jesus, whether our track record is especially rough or smooth. Every sin is sin. Every sin separates us from God. And every sin requires a real, true, heart changing repentance. If we think we’re righteous without God, we are wrong. Like you said Laura, God forgive us for thinking we have it all together without you!

      • Janice

        I know exactly how you feel Cassie, I to grew up in a Christian home, Jesus was always there for me. It’s only recently I’ve come to understand that God loves us all equally, regardless of our history.

    • Sara

      “forgive me for trying to love justly without you.” Wow – this is so profound! My love for others is so empty without Jesus. Thank you for this insight!

  • Wow, this blew me away with its power: “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” 49Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” 50 And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7, 47-50

    This scripture is so familiar, and yet, it hit me like I had never seen it before. “He who is forgiven little, loves little.” Just: wow. I think we have to accept that we have caused great pain with our sins before we can truly receive forgiveness and love.

    The other side to this coin is knowing that we also must remain humble. One small sin makes me a sinner just as much as many great sins does. I am no better or worse than the person next to me in the bank or grocery store. Yet we are all equally worthy of the forgiveness of Christ, if only we can realize it and open our hearts to Him.

    God, remind me today that all I need to do is remember Your grace has been given and keep my heart open to receiving You. Thank You for blessing my life with this message and with Your infinite generosity. Amen.

  • Abby Beeson

    I know at times I display attitudes like both the Pharisee and the tax collector. I am often reminded by my own actions and thoughts that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) (this is the tax collector side). I know that this should mean that I recognise the unending grace and forgiveness that I have been given by God, through the death of Jesus (Romans 3:24) and should then quickly forgive the short fallings and errors I see in others. However, I know that this is not always the case, and I instead find myself being judgemental or unloving. I can only pray that the Lord will continue to convict me in this area of my own life and lead me to increase the forgiveness and compassion I show to others. I pray that He will continue to remind me that as all my sins are covered by the blood of Jesus, so too are those of all who believe in Him. It is not my place to act as judge.

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