(1) That men ought always to pray, and not to faint.—The latter of the two verbs is noticeable as being used in the New Testament by St. Luke and St. Paul only (2 Corinthians 4:1; 2 Corinthians 4:16; Galatians 6:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:13). The whole verse is remarkable as being one of the few instances (Luke 18:9 being another) in which a parable is introduced by a distinct statement as to its drift and aim.
The case put for the purpose of the parable was obviously an extreme one. Every motive that ordinarily leads men in office to act rightly was absent. Conscience was dead, and there was no love of approbation or fear of blame to supply its place.
She came unto him.—The tense implies continual coming.
Avenge me of mine adversary.—The term is used in its legal sense. She was plaintiff, and he defendant, or, it may be, vice versâ. The judge put off his decision, and the “law’s delay” was worse to her than the original wrong had been.
Though I fear not God, nor regard man.—Here, also, there is a graphic touch of intensity. The man had passed beyond the stage of hypocrisy, conscious or unconscious, and saw himself even as others, even as God, saw him.
Avenge his own elect.—Literally, work out His vengeance for, the Greek noun having the article. The “vengeance” is not, however, that of retaliation such as human passions seek for, but primarily the “vindication” of God’s elect, the assertion of their rights, and includes retribution upon others only so far as it is involved in this. (Comp. the use of the word in Romans 12:19; 2 Corinthians 7:11; Hebrews 10:30.) This is the first occurrence of the word “elect” in St. Luke’s Gospel, but it begins to be prominent about this time in our Lord’s teaching. (See Notes on Matthew 20:16; Matthew 24:22.) The “elect” are the disciples who being “called” obey the “call” (Romans 8:30). The further question, What leads them to obey? is not here in view.
Which cry day and night unto him.—The words look to the coming trials and afflictions of the elect, which as yet the disciples knew not, or knew only in part. To see the world against them, and its rulers crushing them, to fight against overwhelming odds, this would tempt them to think that God was not with them, that He had deceived them. (Comp. the language of Jeremiah 20:7.) In the prayer of the souls beneath the altar (Revelation 6:10), we have an echo of the question. In St. Peter’s insistence on the “long-suffering” of God (2 Peter 3:9), we have a proof that he had learnt the answer.
Though he bear long with them.—Literally, bearing long with them. The better MSS. give “and bear long with them.” The English, which suggests the thought that God bears with, i.e., tolerates, His elect, is misleading. What is meant is, that He shows Himself slow to anger “over them,” i.e., where they are concerned. They implore that “long-suffering” for themselves. They are tempted to murmur when it is extended to others.
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 rest—viz., 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; 1 Corinthians 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.”
The one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.—The two words would be more pictorially suggestive to the disciples than they are, at first, to us. They would see the Pharisee with his broad blue zizith, or fringe, and the Tephillin (=prayers), or phylacteries, fastened conspicuously on brow and shoulder; the publican in his common working dress, with no outward badge to testify that he was a child of the Covenant. Here, as in the case of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son (where see Notes), the parable may have stated actual facts. Of one such publican we read not long afterwards. (See Note on Luke 19:8.)
God, I thank thee . . .—We cannot say that the formula, as a formula, was wrong. We are bound to thank God that we have been kept from sins. But all devout minds, and all rightly-constructed liturgies, have recognised the truth that confession must come first, and that without it thanksgiving is merely the utterance of a serene self-satisfaction in outward comforts, or, as here, of spiritual pride.
That I am not as other men.—Here, as before, the rest of mankind. This was the first false step. He did not compare his own imperfections with the infinite perfections of the Eternal, but with the imagined greater imperfections of his fellow-men, and so he stood as one who had gained the shore, and looked with pride, but not with pity, on those who were still struggling in the deep waters.
Extortioners, unjust, adulterers, . . .—The first word was aptly chosen, and was obviously suggested by the presence of the other supplicant. “Six publicans and half-a-dozen extortioners” had become a proverb; and the offensive epithet, if not meant to be heard by the publican, was, at any rate, mentally directed at him. In actual life, as our Lord teaches, there was a far worse, because a more hypocritical, “extortion” practised generally by the Pharisees themselves (Matthew 23:25; Luke 11:39). The other words are more generally put, but they were obviously spoken with side glances at this or that bystander. The language of Cromwell in dissolving the Long Parliament, saying to one “Thou art an adulterer,” and to another “Thou art a drunkard and a glutton,” to a third “and thou an extortioner,” offers a curious instance of unconscious parallelism (Hume’s History of England, chap. 60).
Or even as this publican.—This was the climax of all. He saw the man smiting on his breast in anguish, and no touch of pity, no desire to say a word of comfort, rises in his soul. The penitent is only a foil to the lustre of his own virtues, and gives the zest of contrast to his own insatiable vanity. The very pronoun has the ring of scorn in it.
I give tithes of all that I possess.—Better, of all that I acquire, as in Matthew 10:9; Acts 1:18. Tithe was a tax on produce, not on property. The boast of the Pharisee is, that he paid the lesser tithes, as well as the greater—of mint, anise, and cummin (Matthew 23:23), as well as of corn and wine and oil. There is something obviously intended to be significant in the man’s selection of the good deeds on which he plumes himself. He does not think, as Job did in his boasting mood, that he had been “a father to the poor,” and had “made the widow’s heart to sing for joy” (Job 29:13; Job 29:16), nor look back, as Nehemiah looked, upon good deeds done for his country (Nehemiah 13:14; Nehemiah 13:22; Nehemiah 13:31) in the work of reformation. For him fasting and tithes have come to supersede the “weightier matters of the Law” (Matthew 23:23).
Would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven.—There is a subtle delineation of what one may call the physiognomy of repentance, which should not pass unnoticed. The downcast look stands in contrast with the supercilious expression (taking the adjective in its most literal sense) of the Pharisee.
But smote upon his breast.—The same act meets us as the expression of extremest sorrow in those who stood by the cross (Luke 23:48). Looked at physiologically, it seems to imply a tension of the vessels of the heart, such as we all feel in deep emotion, to which outward impact seems, in some measure, to minister relief. So men strike their chest, when suffering from cold, to quicken the circulation of the blood. As being spontaneous and involuntary, it attested the reality of the emotion, and contrasted with the calm, fixed attitude of the Pharisee.
God be merciful to me a sinner.—Literally, to me the sinner, as though, like St. Paul, he singled out his own guilt as exceptional, and thought of himself as “the chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).
For every one that exalteth himself.—Comp. Note on Luke 14:11. What had there been said, in its bearing on man’s outward life, and as shown by the judgment of men, is here transferred, the law remaining the same, to the higher regions of the spiritual life and to God’s judgment. In both cases there is a needless variation in the English version, the Greek giving the same verb for both “abased” and “humbleth.”
The lessons of the parable force themselves upon every reader. The spirit of religious egotism, however, is not easily exorcised, and we need, perhaps, to be reminded that the temper of the Pharisee may learn to veil itself in the language of the publican, men confessing that they are “miserable sinners,” and resting, with a secret self-satisfaction in the confession; or that, conversely, the publican—i.e., the openly non-religious man—may cease to smite upon his breast, and may come to give God thanks that he is not as the Pharisee.
And come, follow me.—St. Luke, with St. Matthew, omits the “taking up thy cross,” which is found in many, but not all, MSS. of St. Mark.
He was very rich.—St. Luke’s equivalent for he had great possessions. There is, perhaps, something suggestive, especially on the view which has been taken as to the identity of the young ruler, and the purport of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, in the use of the very same adjective as had been employed in that parable.
How hardly shall they that have riches . . .—Another verbal agreement with St. Mark.
For the kingdom of God’s sake.—Note the freedom of reporting in the substitution of this phrase in the place of “for My name’s sake,” in St. Matthew, and “for My sake and the gospel’s” in St. Mark.
This saying was hid from them.—The verb so rendered occurs here only in the New Testament. Its precise meaning is “covered” or “veiled,” rather than hidden. Some such thought of dimmed perception was in St. Paul’s mind when he said of the unbelieving Jews that, as they heard the Law and the Prophets, “the veil was upon their hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:15).