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In Biblical times, the tax collectors were thought of as the lowest of the low, the chief of sinners. For example, they often scalped people for an inflated amount of taxes, pocketing the difference. This was a known practice so tax collectors were generally disliked. In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee. Believers today can learn from this passage about how to treat sinners, according to Jesus.
Before getting into the passage, it’s crucial for believers to understand that they are represented by the Pharisee in this parable. The Pharisees were the religious hierarchy of the day. They were the believers who went to church every time the doors were open, gave their tithe and kept the commandments. Even though they too were sinners, they didn’t see themselves that way.
Jesus likely surprised everyone when he began telling his parable. He started by explaining in verse 11 how a Pharisee prays, saying he would say “God, I thank you that I am not like other people…..even this tax collector.” Verse 13 goes on to say that the tax collector would simply pray “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Jesus shocked his listeners that day. He claimed the tax collector, not the Pharisee went home justified, which would have gone against the common opinion of the time. Verse 14 states: “I tell you, this man (tax collector), rather than the other (Pharisee), went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Believers must be careful to avoid the pitfalls portrayed by the Pharisee. Just because a person becomes a believer doesn’t mean they cease to sin. Therefore, they cannot judge the heart of another sinner. They can and should act in love as Christ did.
Watch the video below to see this all played out the in the movie “The Bible Series.”