The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Last Updated on January 13, 2023 by GMC

Third Week of Lent, Saturday

Luke 18:9-14

He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14

Humble faces shine
In the mirror of mercy.
Proud miens malign.

A Pharisee and a tax collector 
Went up to the temple to pray.
One stood aloof and the other downcast,
A kingpin and a castaway.

With a wooden beam in the oculus,1
Sinners and swindlers were despised.
I’m God’s favored son, thought the pietist,
Keeping the laws, he moralized.

Alas for me, beat the sad publican
His breast with supplicating grief.
May the smoke of incense and sacrifice2
Atone for this woebegone thief.

The Pharisee and the tax collector
Came down from the temple that day.
The self-righteous prig left unjustified;
The son had his sins cast away.


1 Matthew 7:1-5; Luke 6:41-42.

2 The Greek verb in the phrase, “be merciful to me” in Luke 18:13 is hilaskomai, not eleeó (as in Kyrie eleison). New Testament scholar Kenneth Bailey writes: “Verse 13 contains the word hilasthete (make an atonement). The more common word eleeson (have mercy) occurs in 18:39. The appearance of the weighty theological word hilaskomai in 18:13 must be intentional and significant. The most natural explanation appears to be that the two men are watching the atonement sacrifice in the temple. The tax collector longs that it might be for him.” See A Study Guide for Fifteen Lectures on the Parables of Jesus, p. 36.

3 Replies to “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector”

  1. Dear GMC, thank you for your poetry that touches the heart and mind and reminds us that Jesus is never upset at sinners, only with those who do not think they are sinners. Earlier, I was listening to the hymn Give Me Jesus and thought of you and kept you in prayer.

  2. I like the contrasts in your poem GMC! The “woeful tax thief” and the “castaway” are colorful descriptors. I’ve always loved the Kyrie and have had the blessing of singing the mercy requests with our church choir. Much missed singing during this pandemic.

    1. Thank you both. I also love the Kyrie and sacred chants. The pandemic cannot silence hearts that sing! Thank you for your prayers, fdan.

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