The Pharisee and the tax-collector


“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector” (NRSV, Luke 18:10).

The Pharisees were a religious party dedicated to maintaining the Jewish Law and the Jewish way of life, of which the Law was the spiritual basis.  They were the successors of a resistance movement which 200 years before Our Lord’s time had heroically and successfully opposed an attempt by the King of Syria to stamp out the ancestral religion of the Jews and with it their identity and survival as a nation.

In order to safeguard the integrity of the Law, and prevent it from being whittled away, it was hedged about with elaborate rules covering its application to almost every conceivable aspect of daily life.  These rules were being constantly added to in order to deal with changing circumstances and new situations.

The Pharisees were distinguished by their punctilious observance of these ritual rules, and thus formed a religious élite, which was closed to the mass of the people because the latter lacked the specialised knowledge or indeed the time required.  Many of the Pharisees were good and devout, but the system tended to produce men whose religion was reduced to a ritual rule of thumb.

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