Jesus taught in parables to enable His listeners to more easily understand important concepts that may cut close to home. In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus teaches us about pride and humility in a way that all of us can understand.
It seems that a Pharisee and a tax-collector were in the temple to pray. The Pharisee stood up and prayed in a way that was giving thanks to God for making him better than everyone else. He lists the extra things he did, above and beyond the requirements of the Law in a way that would shame other people. The tax-collector, off at a distance, with head bowed simply asked God to have mercy on him. Jesus ended the story with by pointing out that the lowly tax-collector was the one who was justified before God; that only those who humble themselves will be exalted before God and those who exalt themselves will be humbled. (v. 14)
I could be mistaken, but it seems to me that the Pharisee in the story had no idea that he needed God’s mercy because all he could think of was how great he was; and maybe he was in a sense. If his conduct was really so righteous as he claimed, he was behaving better than most everyone else, but there was one problem. Benjamin Franklin in his Autobiography wrote about a self-improvement project that he entered into as a young man. He made a list of virtues, and every day he made a mark next to the virtue that he felt he had fallen short of that day. The idea was that he would work very hard the next day to correct his behavior. The problem that he found himself running into was that on the days that he didn’t fall short in any other virtue, he was so proud of himself that he fell way short in “Humility.” Franklin reports that he soon abandoned the project.
It isn’t surprising that a Pharisee who came face to face with Jesus would reject Him as Messiah when He taught about mercy. Apparently they had no understanding that they needed mercy, so wonderful was their behavior…
May we be quick to humble ourselves that we never become modern-day Pharisees!