Luke 18:9
And he spoke this parable to certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
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(9) Unto certain which trusted in themselves . . .—Here, as above, the purpose of the parable is stated at the outset. It is, perhaps, open for us to think that isolated fragments of our Lord’s teaching, treasured up here and there in the memory of disciples, and written down in answer to St. Luke’s inquiries in the second stage of the growth of the Gospel records, would be likely to have such an introduction.

The “certain which trusted” are not specified as being actually Pharisees, and included, we may believe, disciples in whom the Pharisee temper was gaining the mastery, and who needed to be taught as by a reductio ad absurdum, what it naturally led to.

Despised others.—Literally, the restviz., all others. The word for “despise,” literally, count as nothing, is again one of those which St. Luke has, and the other Evangelists have not (that in Mark 9:12 differs in form), but which is frequent in the vocabulary of St. Paul (Romans 14:3; Romans 14:10; 1Corinthians 16:11, et al.). This universal depreciation of others would seem almost an exaggeration, if experience did not show—e.g., as in the history of Montanism and analogous forms of error—how easily men and women, religious societies and orders, drift into it, and how hard it is to set any limits to the monomania of egotism—above all, of religious egotism. It never uttered itself, perhaps, in a more repulsive form than when the Pharisees came to speak of the great mass of their brother-Israelites as the brute people, the “people of the earth.”



Luke 18:1 - Luke 18:14

The two parables in this passage are each prefaced by Luke’s explanation of their purpose. They are also connected by being both concerned with aspects of prayer. But the second was apparently not spoken at the same time as the first, but is put here by Luke as in an appropriate place.

I. The wearisome widow and the unrighteous judge.

The similarities and dissimilarities between this parable and that in Luke 11:5 - Luke 11:8 are equally instructive. Both take a very unlovely character as open to the influence of persistent entreaty; both strongly underscore the unworthiness and selfishness of the motive for yielding. Both expect the hearers to use common-sense enough to take the sleepy friend and the worried judge as contrasts to, not parables, of Him to whom Christians pray. But the judge is a much worse man than the owner of the loaves, and his denial of the justice which it was his office to dispense is a crime; the widow’s need is greater than the man’s, and the judge’s cynical soliloquy, in its unabashed avowal of caring for neither God nor man, and being guided only by regard to comfort, touches a deep depth of selfishness. The worse he was, the more emphatic is the exhortation to persistence. If the continual dropping of the widow’s plea could wear away such a stone as that, its like could wear away anything. Yes, and suppose that the judge were as righteous and as full of love and wish to help as this judge was of their opposites; suppose that instead of the cry being a weariness it was a delight; suppose, in short, that, to go back to Luke 11:1 - Luke 11:54, we ‘call on Him as Father who, without respect of persons, judgeth’: then our ‘continual coming’ will surely not be less effectual than hers was.

But we must note the spiritual experience supposed by the parable to belong to the Christian life. That forlorn figure of the widow, with all its suggestions of helplessness and oppression, is Christ’s picture of His Church left on earth without Him. And though of course it is a very incomplete representation, it is a true presentation of one side and aspect of the devout life on earth. ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation,’ and the truer His servants are to Him, and the more their hearts are with Christ in God, the more they will feel out of touch with the world, and the more it will instinctively be their ‘adversary.’ If the widow does not feel the world’s enmity, it will generally be because she is not a ‘widow indeed.’

And another notable fact of Christian experience underlies the parable; namely that the Church’s cry for protection from the adversary is often apparently unheard. In Luke 11:1 - Luke 11:54 the prayer was for supply of necessities, here it is for the specific blessing of protection from the adversary. Whether that is referred to the needs of the Church or of the individual, it is true that usually the help sought is long delayed. It is not only ‘souls under the altar’ that have to cry ‘How long, O Lord, dost Thou not avenge?’ One thinks of years of persecution for whole communities, or of long, weary days of harassment and suffering for individuals, of multitudes of prayers and groans sent up into a heaven that, for all the answers sent down, might as well be empty, and one feels it hard to hold by the faith that ‘verily, there is a God that’ heareth.

We have all had times when our faith has staggered, and we have found no answer to our heart’s question: ‘Why tarry the wheels of His chariot?’ Many of us have felt what Mary and Martha felt when ‘Jesus abode still two days in the place where He was’ after He had received their message, in which they had been so sure of His coming at once when He heard that ‘he whom Thou lovest is sick,’ that they did not ask Him to come. The delays of God’s help are a constant feature in His providence, and, as Jesus says here, they are but too likely to take the life out of faith.

But over against these we have to place Jesus’ triumphant assurance here: ‘He will avenge them speedily.’ Yes, the longest delay may yet be ‘right early,’ for heaven’s clock does not beat at the same rate as our little chronometers. God is ‘the God of patience,’ and He has waited for millenniums for the establishment of His kingdom on earth; His ‘own elect’ may learn long-suffering from Him, and need to take to heart the old exhortation, ‘If the vision tarry, wait for it, for it will surely come, and will not tarry.’ Yes, God’s delays are not delays, but are for our profit that we may always pray and not faint, and may keep alight the flame of the sure hope that the Son of man cometh, and that in His coming all adversaries shall be destroyed, and the widow, no longer a widow, but the bride, go in to the feast and forget her foes, and ‘the days of her mourning be ended.’

II. The Pharisee and the publican.

Luke’s label on this parable tells us that it was spoken to a group of the very people who were personated in it by the Pharisee. One can fancy their faces as they listened, and how they would love the speaker! Their two characteristics are self-righteousness and depreciation of every one else, which is the natural result of such trust in self. The self-adulation was absolute, the contempt was all-embracing, for the Revised Version rightly renders ‘set all others at nought.’ That may sound exaggerated, but the way to judge of moral characteristics is to take them in their fullest development and to see what they lead to then. The two pictures heighten each other. The one needs many strokes to bring out the features, the other needs but one. Self-righteousness takes many shapes, penitence has but one emotion to express, one cry to utter.

Every word in the Pharisee’s prayer is reeking with self-complacency. Even the expression ‘prayed with himself’ is significant, for it suggests that the prayer was less addressed to God than to himself, and also that his words could scarcely be spoken in the hearing of others, both because of their arrogant self-praise and of their insolent calumnies of ‘all the rest.’ It was not prayer to God, but soliloquy in his own praise, and it was in equal parts adulation of himself and slander of other men. So it never went higher than the inner roof of the temple court, and was, in a very fatal sense, ‘to himself.’

God is complimented with being named formally at first, and in the first two words, ‘I thank thee,’ but that is only formal introduction, and in all the rest of his prayer there is not a trace of praying. Such a self-satisfied gentleman had no need to ask for anything, so he brought no petitions. He uses the conventional language of thanksgiving, but his real meaning is to praise himself to God, not to thank God for himself. God is named once. All the rest is I, I, I. He had no longing for communion, no aspiration, no emotion.

His conception of righteousness was mean and shallow. And as St. Bernard notes, he was not so much thankful for being righteous as for being alone in his goodness. No doubt he was warranted in disclaiming gross sins, but he was glad to be free from them, not because they were sins, but because they were vulgar. He had no right to fling mud either on ‘all the rest’ or on ‘this publican,’ and if he had been really praying or giving thanks he would have had enough to think of in God and himself without casting sidelong and depreciatory glances at his neighbours. He who truly prays ‘sees no man any more,’ or if he does, sees men only as subjects for intercession, not for contempt. The Pharisee’s notion of righteousness was primarily negative, as consisting in abstinence from flagrant sins, and, in so far as it was positive, it dealt entirely with ceremonial acts. Such a starved and surface conception of righteousness is essential to self-righteousness, for no man who sees the law of duty in its depth and inwardness can flatter himself that he has kept it. To fast twice a week and to give tithes of all that one acquired were acts of supererogation, and are proudly recounted as if God should feel much indebted to the doer for paying Him more than was required. The Pharisee makes no petitions. He states his claims, and tacitly expects that God will meet them.

Few words are needed to paint the publican; for his estimate of himself is simple and one, and what he wants from God is one thing, and one only. His attitude expresses his emotions, for he does not venture to go near the shining example of all respectability and righteousness, nor to lift his eyes to heaven. Like the penitent psalmist, his iniquities have taken hold on him, so that he is ‘not able to look up.’ Keen consciousness of sin, true sorrow for sin, earnest desire to shake off the burden of sin, lowly trust in God’s pardoning mercy, are all crowded into his brief petition. The arrow thus feathered goes straight up to the throne; the Pharisee’s prayer cannot rise above his own lips.

Jesus does not leave His hearers to apply the ‘parable,’ but drives its application home to them, since He knew how keen a thrust was needed to pierce the triple breastplate of self-righteousness. The publican was ‘justified’; that is, accounted as righteous. In the judgment of heaven, which is the judgment of truth, sin forsaken is sin passed away. The Pharisee condensed his contempt into ‘this publican’; Jesus takes up the ‘this’ and turns it into a distinction, when He says, ‘this man went down to his house justified.’ God’s condemnation of the Pharisee and acceptance of the publican are no anomalous aberration of divine justice, for it is a universal law, which has abundant exemplifications, that he that exalteth himself is likely to be humbled, and he that humbles himself to be exalted. Daily life does not always yield examples thereof, but in the inner life and as concerns our relations to God, that law is absolutely and always true.Luke 18:9-10. And he spake this parable — Having in the preceding parable guarded his disciples against faintness and weariness in prayer, he here guards them against the contrary extreme of self-confidence: unto certain — For the conviction of certain persons in his train; who trusted in themselves that they were righteous — Who had a high opinion of their own piety, and on that account despised others as greatly inferior to them, both in holiness and in the favour of God. Observe, reader, these persons were, properly speaking, not hypocrites: the Pharisee here mentioned was evidently not a hypocrite, any more than he was an outward adulterer; but, mistaking his real state and character, he sincerely believed himself to be righteous, and accordingly told God so in the prayer which none but God heard. Two men went up into the temple to pray — It seems it was not the hour of public prayer, but they went thither to offer up their personal devotions, as was usual with pious people at that time, when the temple was not only the place, but the medium of worship; God having promised, in answer to Solomon’s request, that whatever prayer should be offered in a right manner in, or toward that house, it should, therefore, the rather be accepted. Christ is our temple, and to him we must have an eye in all our approaches to God. One a Pharisee — As if he had said, One of that sect so honoured among them; and the other a publican — Whom they were used to number with the most contemptible of mankind.18:9-14 This parable was to convince some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. God sees with what disposition and design we come to him in holy ordinances. What the Pharisee said, shows that he trusted to himself that he was righteous. We may suppose he was free from gross and scandalous sins. All this was very well and commendable. Miserable is the condition of those who come short of the righteousness of this Pharisee, yet he was not accepted; and why not? He went up to the temple to pray, but was full of himself and his own goodness; the favour and grace of God he did not think worth asking. Let us beware of presenting proud devotions to the Lord, and of despising others. The publican's address to God was full of humility, and of repentance for sin, and desire toward God. His prayer was short, but to the purpose; God be merciful to me a sinner. Blessed be God, that we have this short prayer upon record, as an answered prayer; and that we are sure that he who prayed it, went to his house justified; for so shall we be, if we pray it, as he did, through Jesus Christ. He owned himself a sinner by nature, by practice, guilty before God. He had no dependence but upon the mercy of God; upon that alone he relied. And God's glory is to resist the proud, and give grace to the humble. Justification is of God in Christ; therefore the self-condemned, and not the self-righteous, are justified before God.Unto certain - Unto some.

Which trusted in themselves - Who confided in themselves, or who supposed that they were righteous. They did not trust to God or the Messiah for righteousness, but to their own works. They vainly supposed they had themselves complied with the demands of the law of God.

Despised others - Others who were not as externally righteous as themselves. This was the character of the Pharisees. They trusted in their outward conformity to the ceremonies of the law. They considered all who did not do that as sinners. This, moreover, is the true character of self-righteousness. Men of that stamp always despise all others. They think they are far above them in holiness, and are disposed to say to them, Stand by thyself, for I am holier than thou, Isaiah 65:5. True religion, on the contrary, is humble. Those who trust in Christ for righteousness feel that "they" are, in themselves, poor, and miserable, and guilty, and they are willing to admit that others may be much better than themselves. Certain it is, they "despise" no one. They love all people; they regard them, however vile, as the creatures of God and as going to eternity, and are disposed to treat them well, and to aid them in their journey toward another world.

Lu 18:9-14. Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. By the term certain, or some, he unquestionably understandeth the Pharisees and their disciples, who (as we have all along in the history of the Gospel observed) were a generation of men who were eminently guilty both of a boasting of themselves, and a scorning and despising all others. And he spake this parable unto certain,.... Or with respect to certain men; having a view to them, in order to expose their pride, vanity, arrogance, and self confidence:

which trusted in themselves that they were righteous; or, as if they were righteous; or because they were so in their own eyes, and in the esteem of others: the ground of their trust and confidence were themselves, their hearts, and the supposed goodness of them, their outward holiness, their moral behaviour, their duties, and good works, their almsdeeds, and religious exercises, their ceremonial observances, and fleshly privileges; on account of which they thought themselves very righteous persons, such as could not fail of being accepted with God, and justified in his sight; whereas there are none righteous in, and of themselves, no, not one. All the descendants of Adam, as such, are sinners, destitute of a righteousness, and filled with all unrighteousness, and are enemies to true righteousness: no man is naturally righteous, nor is he capable of making himself so, by any thing he can do: none are righteous by their obedience to the law of works, for that is imperfect, and cannot justify before God, in whose sight no flesh living can be justified on this account, however righteous they may appear before men, or may be in their own eyes: for this is contrary to God's way of making men righteous, and would disannul the death of Christ, and encourage boasting in men. Such trust and confidence must be very vain, and arise from ignorance; from ignorance of God, of the perfection of his justice, and of the nature of his righteous law; and of themselves, of the impurity of their hearts, and the imperfection of their obedience. These were of the "pharisaical" sort, and of which complexion were the generality of the Jews; and many of these were now standing by Christ, and within the hearing of this parable, and for whose sake it was delivered:

and despised others; or, "every man", as the Syriac and Persic versions read; all the rest of mankind, all but themselves; they made nothing of them, had them in no account; treated them as persons unworthy of the regard of God, and not fit to stand near them, or to be named with them.

{2} And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:

(2) Two things especially make our prayers void and of no effect: confidence of our own righteousness, and our contempt of others; but a humble heart is contrary to both of these.

Luke 18:9. It is the more arbitrary to assume that the following doctrinal narrative was originally delivered in another connection (Paulus, Olshausen, de Wette; comp. Kuinoel), that it rather affords a confirmation of the probability (see on Luke 17:22) that the Pharisees, after our Lord’s rejoinder to them, Luke 17:20 f., were no longer present. The historical connection with what precedes is not more closely to be indicated than is pointed out by the characterization of the τινές as τοὺς πεποιθ. κ.τ.λ. These men, according to Luke 18:9, must in some way or another have made manifest their disposition, and thereby have given occasion to Jesus to deliver the following discourse as far as Luke 18:14. Who are the people? Assuredly not Pharisees, since it is actually a Pharisee that Jesus presents as a warning example. Possibly they were conceited followers of Jesus (Schleiermacher, de Wette, Baumgarten-Crusius), but more probably: Jews of a Pharisaic disposition, since Luke does not here, as at Luke 18:1, designate the disciples expressly, and it was just for Jews of this kind that not only the example of the Pharisee, but also that of the publican, was the most humiliating.

πρός] He spoke to them. To take it as at Luke 18:1 (Kuinoel, de Wette, and many others) is unsuitable, since there are persons in this place, and the context suggests no occasion for departing from the usual ad quosdam (Vulgate).

τινας τοὺς πεποιθότας] designates the persons in the abstract indefinitely, but in the quality in question specifically. See on Galatians 1:7, and Bornemann, Schol. p. 113; Bernhardy, p. 318.

ἐφʼ ἑαυτ.] they put on themselves the confidence that they were righteous. For others they did not entertain this confidence, but assumed the contrary and despised them.Luke 18:9-14. The Pharisee and the publican.9-14. The Duty of Humble Prayer. The Pharisee and the Tax-gatherer.

9. which trusted in themselves that they were righteous] See Luke 16:15; Php 3:4; 2 Corinthians 1:9. The Jewish words ‘Jashar,’ ‘the upright man,’ and ‘Tsaddik, ‘just,’ expressed their highest moral ideal; but they made their uprightness and justice consist so much in attention to the ceremonial minutiae of the Levitic Law, and rigid externalism so engrossed their thoughts, that they had lost sight of those loftier and truer ideals of charity which the Prophets had continually set before them-. This fetish-worship of the letter, this scrupulosity about trifles, tended only to self-confidence and pride. It had long been denounced in Scripture. “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness,” Proverbs 30:12; “which say, Stand by thyself come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day,” Isaiah 65:5. This is the sort of ‘faith’ which the Son of Man shall find on the earth, —men’s faith in themselves!

and despised other] Rather, the rest. The word ‘despise’ means ‘treat as nothing,’ ‘regard as mere cyphers,’ Romans 14:3; Romans 14:10. The Rabbis invented the most highflown designations for each other, such as ‘Light of Israel,’ ‘Uprooter of Mountains,’ ‘The Glory of the Law,’ ‘The Holy,’ &c.; but they described the vast mass of their fellow- countrymen as “accursed” for not knowing the law (John 7:49), and spoke of them as ‘empty cisterns,’ ‘people of the earth,’ &c. See on Luke 5:32, Luke 7:34, &c. This Pharisee regards with perfect self-complacency the assumed ruin and degradation of all the rest of mankind. In one sense the Parable represents the mutual relations of Jew and Gentile.Luke 18:9. Καὶ πρός τινας, also to certain persons) Previously He had spoken to the disciples, exhorting them to perseverance in prayer: now He deters certain persons from rashness and perverse self-confidence.—πεποιθότας ἐφʼ ἑαυτοῖς, who trusted in themselves) in themselves, not in the grace of God, when praying; Luke 18:10. The antithesis is πίστιν, faith, which has respect to God, Luke 18:8. So πέποιθεν ἐπὶ τῇ δίκαιοσύνῃ αὐτοῦ, Ezekiel 33:13, LXX.—ὅτι, that) For the very question at issue turns upon that, who in prayer is to be counted righteous [the self-justiciary, or he who stands righteous by faith].—δικαιοι) righteous, needing no justification, Luke 18:14. The antithesis is τῷ ἁμαρτωλῷ, “me, the sinner,” Luke 18:13.—ἐξουθενοῦντας, who made nothing of, despised) accounting them unrighteous [as compared with themselves].—τοὺς λοιποὺς, the rest of men) all and each: Luke 18:11.Verse 9. - And he spake this parable. With this parable, "the Pharisee and the publican," St. Luke concludes his memories of the last journeyings toward Jerusalem. The incidents which directly follow took place close to Jerusalem; and here St. Luke's narrative rejoins that of SS. Matthew and Mark. No note of time or place assists us in defining exactly the period when the Master spoke this teaching; some time, however, in these last journeyings, that is, in the closing months of the public ministry, the parable in question was certainly spoken. Despised (ἐξουθενοῦντας)

Lit., made nothing of. Rev., set at nought.

Others (τοὺς λοιποὺς)

The expression is stronger. Lit., the rest. They threw all others beside themselves into one class. Rev., correctly, all others.

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