Stories of the Kingdom from Luke: In Good Standing

May 21, 2024 | by Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee

Stories of the Kingdom from Luke:

In Good Standing

Scripture: Luke 18:10-14

Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee

Spiritual Life Officer


            The great Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy commented, “Conceit is incompatible with understanding.” No parable of Jesus more clearly illustrates this idea than the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the Temple.

             The story tells of two men who could not have been more different. The Pharisee was a devout person, widely admired and respected. He not only did all that was required but went above and beyond. The other character was the polar opposite. The tax collector was a collaborator with the Roman government, a man who had sold his soul to make money. By collecting taxes for the hated occupation government he betrayed his nation. When Jesus told this story, everyone knew how it would go. A hero and a villain. But they could hardly have been more shocked with what followed. The great Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy commented, “Conceit is incompatible with understanding.” No parable of Jesus more clearly illustrates this idea than the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the Temple.

The Unhero

            The first scene belongs to the supposed hero. “The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank You, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income” (Luke 18:11-12). Taking the traditional stance for prayer in his day, the Pharisee would have stood while lifting his arms toward Heaven and turning his palms upward to symbolize his readiness to receive God’s blessing. Also in these days, prayers were spoken out loud. Silent prayer was virtually unknown. He ticked off the things he did right – and they were very good things. He had led an exemplary life, overcoming temptation and dedicating himself to righteous living. It is not wrong to thank God for victory over sin. Nor is it wrong to thank Him for being in a favorable place where temptations are minimized. However note the lack of any thankfulness.

            He went above and beyond. Where the Scriptures only required a yearly fast during the Day of Atonement, he had fasted twice a week. Where the Scriptures required him to tithe the harvest from his land, he gave 10 percent of every single thing he received.

            But something was very, very wrong.

            It was his attitude. When he prayed, it was in a prominent place so no one could miss seeing him. His first words were not of praise to God or seeking His help and guidance. Why should they be? He seemed to have all the answers himself. Instead, he strained to pat himself on the back before God and anyone nearby who could hear him. He did so by putting down others, by contrast showing how really special he was. “I am not like them,” he sounded, the sneer adding emphasis to his contempt. Knowing the tax collector was in hearing distance he singled him out for ridicule. In writing on this passage, Church Father Cyrile of Alexandria commented, “No one who is in good health ridicules one who is sick for being laid up and bedridden.” He failed to see that any good fortune he enjoyed was because of God’s blessing. He felt that it was because he was so wonderfully good that God simply had to bless him. Sort of an, “Aren’t I do You a big favor by being a Christian” approach.

The Vanquished Victor

            The extreme opposite was the tax collector. He would have been avoided as he came into the Temple area, likely hearing the whispers of those who asked each other, “What is he doing here?” While they might not think he belonged, the poor tax collector was sure he didn’t.

            “The tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ (vs. 13).

            He dared not stand close to the “saintly” Pharisee, not only because he knew the man’s contempt for him but because he felt so incredibly unworthy. We don’t know what led him there but it must have been a combination of being irresistibly drawn to the Temple against feeling great shame once he got there. It was as if the holiness of that place shone a spotlight on how pathetic a man he was. In that crowd of people, he knew himself to be the least deserving, the least loved, the least who had a right to even address God.

            In beating his chest, he showed the ultimate sign of mourning as would be done if a wife or child had died. This was grief unmasked, so caught up in the emotion that he didn’t care who saw it. While the Pharisee lifted his eyes and arms toward Heaven, the tax collector’s head bowed in anguish. He could not boast of what he had done because all of it looked pathetic. All he could think of was his failure. Every scene that marched across his mind showed how useless his life had been. He cried out, “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.” Actually, his words would be better rendered, “I am THE sinner.” The worst of the worst. He prayed for mercy because he could ask for nothing more and he could live not a moment with anything less.

Broken but Whole

            The shock came to those listening to Jesus when He said, “This sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God” (vs. 14).

            Better to be broken before God and accepted than admired and rejected. God doesn’t want to see our resume´, but our repentance. When we empty ourselves before Him, our Lord gladly fills us with Himself.

Our Corporate Prayer

Dear Lord, Help me to remember how deceitful my heart can be, especially in the matter of pride. It sneaks in, and before I know it, I start thinking myself better than this person or that this thing is below me, or I should have been mentioned instead of that other person. Help me to remember that I am a sinner in need of grace. I have no standing outside of You. When I see you face-to-face, You will not want ask for my list of accomplishments but if I know You. But I thank You that knowing You is enough. Wash away my pride in Your blood, my Savior. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Our Worldwide Prayer Meeting
Rwanda & Burundi Territory

Thinking it Through

How has pride crept into your life? How do you handle it when it is brought to your attention? How do you pray about it?

Notable Quotables

Lack of humility leads men into all kinds of sin, including rejecting God Himself when He comes in some unexpected form. - General Frederick Coutts


An old hymn of invitation invites us to reflect on what God may be saying to us. "I Surrender All." 


We would appreciate any feedback and/or suggestions on how to improve these devotionals. Please email comments to: or by going to our website:
We would love to hear from you.

Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee
Territorial Spiritual Life Development Officer/THQ Chaplain
USA Southern Territory        

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