The Publican and the Prophets

The Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14) –

The Lord Jesus taught this parable:

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men-extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.  ‘I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’  And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

St. John Chrysostom comments:

“There is not, in fact, there is not any other remedy so efficacious for wiping away sins as the constant recollection of them and the unremitting criticism of them. This is the way the tax collector succeeded in setting aside his countless vices so as to say, ‘Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner;’ this is the way the Pharisee forfeited all righteousness in neglecting to attribute his sins to himself and condemning the whole world in the words, ‘I am not like other people, rapacious, avaricious, nor like this tax collector.’ Hence Paul also makes this exhortation, ‘Let each one test their own work, and then their boast will be their own work and not someone else’s.’

Do you want to learn also the way righteous people in the Old Testament criticized themselves? Listen to how they, too, uttered remarks in accord with these people. David, remember, said, ‘My sins have risen over my head; they weigh me down like a heavy burden.’ Isaiah cried aloud, ‘What a wretch I am, being human and having unclean lips.’ And the three young men, confined to the furnace and surrendering their bodies to death for the sake of God, in their extreme situation listed their sins in the words, ‘We have sinned, we have done wrong’ – and yet what was more illustrious than they, what more pure? I mean, even if they were guilty of some sins, that fire by its nature would have wiped them all out; yet instead of their eyes being on their virtuous actions, they reckoned up their sins. Daniel, too, despite the lions’ den, despite the countless punishments he endured, criticizes himself personally and makes no such remarks about his neighbor.


What, then? The person who speaks badly of others provokes the Lord, whereas those who speak badly of themselves placate and appease him; it renders the righteous more righteous, rescues sinners from their sins and makes them worthy of pardon. Aware of this, therefore, let us busy ourselves not with others’ vices but with our own; let us examine our conscious, let us recall our whole life, let us pry into each of our sins, and let us not only not speak badly of others but also not listen to others speaking badly.”  (Old Testament Homilies: Volume 3, pp 48-49)

We can remember St. Luke’s explanation for why Jesus told the Parable of the Publican and Pharisee:

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

This is an important lesson for all Orthodox as we enter into Lent and imagine that fasting somehow makes us righteous and better Christians than those who don’t fast!  The fast is to bring us to personal repentance, not to the judgment of others.