The Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican

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Jesus often taught in parables. One of the shortest yet most profound was the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. The Bible tells us that “There were some people who thought they were very good and looked down on everyone else. Jesus used this story to teach them” (Luke 18:9).

The word “Pharisee” means “the separated ones,” which sums up the basic nature of their beliefs. They were strict legalists who pledged to observe and obey every one of the countless restrictive rules, traditions, and ceremonial laws of Orthodox Judaism. They considered themselves to be the only true followers of God’s Law, and therefore felt that they were much better and holier than anyone else. Thus they separated themselves not only from the non-Jews—whom they absolutely despised and considered “dogs”—but even other Jews.

The publicans were tax collectors for the foreign occupier and ruler of Palestine, Imperial Rome. The Romans would instruct the publicans how much to collect from the people, and then the publicans could charge extra for their own income. So publicans were usually extortioners and were therefore considered traitors and absolutely despised by other Jews.

So when Jesus told this parable, comparing a Pharisee and a publican, He had chosen the two most opposite figures in the Jewish community. The one was considered the best, most righteous, most religious, most godly of men, whereas the other was considered the worst scoundrel imaginable.

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The parable:

One time there was a Pharisee and a tax collector. One day they both went to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee stood alone, away from the tax collector. When the Pharisee prayed, he said, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not as bad as other people. I am not like men who steal and cheat. I thank you that I am better than this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I give a tenth of everything I get!’

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“The tax collector stood alone too. But when he prayed, he would not even look up to heaven. He felt very humble before God. He said, ‘O God, have mercy on me. I am a sinner!’ I tell you, when this man finished his prayer and went home, he was right with God. But the Pharisee, who felt that he was better than others, was not right with God. People who make themselves important will be made humble. But those who make themselves humble will be made important.” (Luke 18:10-14)


Text © TFI. Art by Didier Martin.

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My Mistake

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Elsa Sichrovsky

I generally consider myself a forgiving and “nice” person, but I had an experience in my sophomore year that tested my ability to forgive. My classmate Matt and I were paired up to do a presentation about modern English literature, and Matt got on my nerves from the start.

My nitpicky and demanding work habits conflicted with Matt’s spontaneous approach to the project. He was frequently late for scheduled discussions, and he continually neglected details I felt were important. To top things off, he was also often late in completing his parts of our project, despite my increasingly frantic text message reminders.

Only three days before the presentation, I realized Matt hadn’t completed the final portion he was responsible for, and I was unable to reach him. Matt finally uploaded a hastily contrived conclusion only hours before the deadline, apologizing and explaining that he had been preoccupied with another assignment.

As I expected, our presentation failed to satisfy the professor, and while he enumerated our team’s many failings, I was burning with resentment toward Matt. But he didn’t seem too disturbed, and I heard from a friend that he felt he’d done his part well. Since there was no satisfaction in snubbing a person who didn’t think he’d done anything wrong, I remained outwardly polite and congratulated myself for being so magnanimous to one so undeserving.

Two months later, in another class, I was paired up with Celine to do a presentation about Japanese grammar. I believed I’d done my best to prepare, but it became apparent during our team’s QandA that I’d completely misunderstood some of the concepts we were presenting, and our team again got a bad score. I expected Celine to be upset, since it had clearly been my fault, but instead, she consoled me and helped me make the needed adjustments to the final version. Celine’s ready forgiveness provoked some soul-searching, as her response to my failure contrasted with my resentment toward Matt.

mistake 2As I thought back over the last few weeks, I realized that I hadn’t really forgiven Matt and had been unable to restrain myself from making some snide remarks about him to my friends. While Matt had been late and perhaps even uninterested, it was painfully clear that I too could be a careless student who caused a team to fail. I’d thought of myself as tolerant and merciful, but my response to Matt showed otherwise. Though I hadn’t deserved mercy, Celine had given it to me freely and without condescension. I prayed that through this experience I could gain some of the loving, humble generosity of spirit that comes from knowing that we are all fallible humans who need the forgiveness of those around us.


Art © TFI. Text courtesy of Activated magazine; used by permission.

Las Bienaventuranzas para niños – The Beatitudes for Children

Las Bienaventuranzas simplificados para que los niños los entiendan mejor. Cada versículo está vivamente ilustrado para ayudar al niño a relacionar el sentido del mismo con situaciones de su vida diaria.
Haz clic aquí para ver el libro para colorear que acompaña esta historia Bíblica para niños.

The Beatitudes (from the Sermon on the Mount), simplified to make them easy for children to understand. Each verse is vividly illustrated to help children relate the meaning to their everyday lives.
Click here for the children’s coloring book that goes with this Bible story.