Parable of the Pharisee & the Tax Collector [Lk 18:9-14]


The tax collector went home justified. Did he repent?

Clearly, he admits his sinfulness and begs for God’s mercy, but it is not clear to me whether he actually had a firm purpose to amend his life and “sin no more”. The parable is silent on this point. The parable would seem to have two completely different meanings, depending on the answer to this question.

If he had a firm purpose of amendment (with the help of God’s grace, of course) then he would walk away from the Temple resolved to renounce his life of sin. See, Zachaeus in Luke 19:1-10, who clearly had a firm purpose of amendment. He promised the Lord that he would give half his money to the poor and that he would restore the money he had extorted several times over.

If he had no firm purpose of amendment, but rather was simply acknowledging his sinfulness and seeking God’s mercy even though he intended to continue his evil ways (even, perhaps, out of despair of the ability to reform his life), then how was he justified? This interpretation would seem to support the idea of salvation by faith alone, as well as the “total depravity” of man.

Yet, the focus of the parable seems to be on his mere acknowledgement of his sinfulness and his dependence upon God rather than upon repentance, i.e., an intention to act differently in the future. Perhaps I am focused on the wrong issue. Perhaps this parable is about self-righteousness and humility and intends to go no further. But then, Jesus says the tax collector “went home justified”, which does take it further. This has bugged me for a while. To me, it only makes sense if the tax collector not only acknowledged his sinfulness and dependence upon God but also firmly intended to change his ways. But then, why does the parable not say that he intended to reform his life?



First, it is a teaching parable. I would not read too much into it. Did our Lord not teach elsewhere in the seamless garment of His Gospel, our need for repentance? His message in this parable was about the juxtaposition of pride (Pharisee) with humility (Tax collector).



I thought of adding something but this says it very well.


I believe the parable is accurate; the tax collector went home righteous.

In Romans (4: 23) St. Paul describes righteousness as: “And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.”

Luke in 1: 6 “Both were righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly.”

So now we get another look at righteousness, the tax collector asked God for mercy. And asking for mercy, according to Jesus, justified the tax collector. It is God’s loving mercy poured into our hearts that makes us righteous.


And don’t forget the Pharisee ! The Pharisee went home dignified :wink:


…I think that you’ve missed two important points:

9 And to some who trusted in themselves as just, and despised others, he spoke also this parable: (St. Luke 18:9)

would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven; but struck his breast (St. Luke 18:13b)

The first point is that Jesus is addressing a very specific heart in the crowd: self-sufficient and prideful who makes itself into god (judgment). The second point is the demeanor of the publican (as with Peter) he did not deem himself to be pure enough to be in the presence of God… and as he offered his prayers to God he Confessed himself a sinner and expressed his repentance by striking his breast (during Mass we emulate this demeanor as we strike our breast: “mea culpa…”).

…yeah, it would have been “perfect” if Jesus would have thrown in every single detail in a more explicitly… but do you truly mean to say that we must be anal-retentive when dealing with Christ’s Teaching/Authority?

Maran atha!



…wait, but isn’t that the way he came in? :wink:

Maran atha!



Although tax collecting may be deemed a “dirty” job, if the tax collector discharge his duties appropriately i.e. did not collect more than he should (Luke 3:12-13) or abuse his power, a person doing a lower level, infamous job is not worse off than one doing a highly visible prestigious position (Pharisee) as long as he acknowledges his personal sins and humbles himself before God. There is no sin in tax collecting per se as Jesus stated that one should pay one’s taxes to Caesar. God is no respecter of persons. Acts 10:34.

I don’t think this parable is about repentance but humility.


Hi, Eric!
…I think that there are three levels here: 1) the one as you’ve suggested (a Jewish person dispensing a low ranking function–by Jewish judgment), 2) the built-in disposition to corruption (surcharges, double-taxation, miscellaneous fees and weavers, etc.)–as the saying goes power corrupts, and 3) the disdain and perception of the Jewish people forced to pay the various taxes (clearly, there would be no appeals even when suspicions of abuse/over taxation).

It boils down to this: an honest person could and would be a fair tax collector; yet, the dishonest ones would taint their best efforts giving all tax collectors a black eye or two. Then, it follows that that reality would give Israel cause to hold tax collectors as one (if not the one) of the least members of its society (just a fraction above the undesirables).

Conversely, Jesus is not judging that the tax collectors were sinners by profession but that this particular tax collector did not judge himself “better than all the rest” as the Pharisee presumed; the tax collector actually bared himself to God and appealed for His Mercy!

Jesus was juxtaposing the boastfulness of those who think themselves elevated above others and the humility of those who allow God to determine their righteousness/unrighteousness–the latter is acceptable to God while the first is rejected.

Maran atha!



The Pharisee was not really sorry because he did not see his sin because he was busy taking the splinter out of the eye of the Tax Collector.

On the other hand, the Tax Collector was sorry for his sin which he owned up to.

God always looks at the heart. Obiously the Tax Collector’s heart was in the right place, so we can assume he meant he was sincerely sorry which means he intended to reform his life whether he said so explicitly or not.


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