The Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector
I have been reading Kenneth Bailey’s great book entitled “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes – Cultural Studies in the Gospels”. Although he does not always re-interpret the parables, as I know them, he does emphasise new aspects that I find thought provoking. Often we have been brought-up with the parables through the lens of western culture, when in fact Jesus told the parables, and they were recorded by Jews, through a Jewish-middle eastern lens. Hence the emphasis which westerners put on them is often quite different from what Jesus was trying to get across.
One such parable was that of the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector from Luke 18:9-14. The parable is essentially about righteousness not how to pray. Bailey notes “The righteous person is not the one who observes a particular code of ethics but rather a person or community granted a special relationship [his emphasis] of acceptance in the presence of God”. Those that do not understand righteousness do not understand or “sense their need for God’s grace”. Bailey goes on to compare and contrast the parable with Isaiah 66:1-6 which contain this well-known phrase:
For all those things My hand has made, And all those things exist," Says the LORD. "But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, And who trembles at My word. (Isaiah 66:2)
Bailey notes that in both the parable and Isaiah 66 there are arrogant people whose self-righteousness is condemned. It is not sacrifice that makes a person right before God, but a contrite spirit and acceptance of the mercy of Jesus Christ. The Tax collector uttered the most far reaching prayer of any of just six words”