Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

Luke 18:9-14


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9  He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others:


10  "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.


11  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.


12  I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.'


13  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'


14  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."

9Εἶπεν δὲ καὶ πρός τινας τοὺς πεποιθότας ἐφ' ἑαυτοῖς ὅτι εἰσὶν δίκαιοι καὶ ἐξουθενοῦντας τοὺς λοιποὺς τὴν παραβολὴν ταύτην:


10Ἄνθρωποι δύο ἀνέβησαν εἰς τὸ ἱερὸν προσεύξασθαι, εἷς Φαρισαῖος καὶ ἕτερος τελώνης.


11 Φαρισαῖος σταθεὶς πρὸς ἑαυτὸν ταῦτα προσηύχετο, θεός, εὐχαριστῶ σοι ὅτι οὐκ εἰμὶ ὥσπερ οἱ λοιποὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ἅρπαγες, ἄδικοι, μοιχοί, καὶ ὡς οὗτος τελώνης:


12νηστεύω δὶς τοῦ σαββάτου, ἀποδεκατῶ πάντα ὅσα κτῶμαι.

13 δὲ τελώνης μακρόθεν ἑστὼς οὐκ ἤθελεν οὐδὲ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ἐπᾶραι εἰς τὸν οὐρανόν, ἀλλ' ἔτυπτεν τὸ στῆθος αὐτοῦ λέγων, θεός, ἱλάσθητί μοι τῷ ἁμαρτωλῷ.


14λέγω ὑμῖν, κατέβη οὗτος δεδικαιωμένος εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτοῦ παρ' ἐκεῖνον: ὅτι πᾶς ὑψῶν ἑαυτὸν ταπεινωθήσεται, δὲ ταπεινῶν ἑαυτὸν ὑψωθήσεται.

Larger Thought Unit

Luke 18:9-19:10 seems to expand on the question posed in Luke 18:8:  “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”



The entire pericope revolves around the notion of justification: ‘righteous’ in v.9 and ‘justified’ in v.14. Both words are from the same root δίκαιο. Its connotation is legal and its setting is the court of law. A δίκαιος is the status of someone who has been declared innocent by the judge. Pleading ‘guilty’ or ‘innocent’ is usually done at the beginning of a lawsuit and thus does not have a binding value. Only the judge’s verdict is trustworthy because it reflects the official and thus binding ‘reality of the matter.’ Consequently, to put one’s trust in one’s own verdict (v.9) is an insult to the judge, whose verdict is de facto preemptively nullified.


In scripture, God functions as, and thus is first and foremost, the sole judge of all; only his verdict is valid and, until it is issued, all legal statements are invalid. Now, in the parable, the Pharisee commits a double sin: not only does he issue the final verdict regarding himself—which action would have been tolerable had he done so on hope— but he actually ‘sits’ on the judge’s throne by emitting the final verdict on another as well as on himself. In doing so the Pharisee takes the place of God himself, which is the culmination of arrogance (which is borne by the root ὕψοexalt, an action befitting solely God himself) according to the prophets; that is why he will be humbled (from the root ταπεινό., put down) by being declared non-innocent—guilty.


The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the pride (ὕψος) of men shall be humbled (ταπεινωθήσεται); and the Lord alone will be exalted (ὑψωθήσεται) in that day… And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled (ταπεινωθήσεται), and the pride (ὕψος) of men shall be brought low; and the Lord alone will be exalted (ὑψωθήσεται) in that day. (Is 2:11, 17)


The tax collector, however, by beseeching God’s mercy, awaited God’s verdict. And God, being ultimately all-merciful, forgives him and thus declares him ‘innocent,’ ‘righteous,’ and thus he appears ‘exalted’ in the eyes of men compared to the status of lowliness he had put himself in.


Further resource

Paul Nadim Tarazi, New Testament Introduction, Vol.2: Luke and Acts, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY, 2001; pp.142-3.


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