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Boasting (The story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector)

To reflect on the need to have an honest opinion of ourselves

by Gill Hartley

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To reflect on the need to have an honest opinion of ourselves.

Preparation and materials

A copy of the words for each of the two characters in the story in 4. below.


  1. Ask the children if they can tell you what boasting is. Can anyone give you an example? Try to work towards some definition, such as: Boasting is telling other people how good you are at something, and sometimes pretending you are better than you are.

  2. Ask the children if they like people who boast about themselves, and if not, why not? You will hopefully get some reasons such as, they're big-headed, they show off, they think they're better than anyone else, they don't care about anyone else.

  3. Introduce the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector as a story that Jesus told about two men, one of whom boasted about himself. Remind the children that the stories that Jesus told were often meant to teach people about God. Ask them, as they listen, to try to work out what Jesus was trying to teach in this story.

  4. Ask for two volunteers to take the parts of the two men. Give them each a copy of the words to be spoken by their character in the story.

  5. Tell the story as follows:

    Two men go to church
    (based on Luke 18.10-14)
    by Gill Hartley

    One day two men went to church to say their prayers. The first one was an important man in the church and everyone thought he was very holy. (First volunteer steps forward and takes a bow.)

    The second man worked in an office in the town and sometimes cheated people out of their money. (Second volunteer steps forward and takes a bow. Then they stand side by side.)

    Which of these two men do you think God was most pleased with - the first man who was important in the church, or the second man who cheated people? (Point to each volunteer as you describe his character.) Before you decide, listen to what each one said in his prayers to God.

    The first man stood up at the front of the church and prayed out loud. He said:

    (First volunteer reads words, boasting and showing off.)
    'Thank you, God, for making me different from other people. They're greedy, they cheat and do wicked things - like this man behind me - but I don't do anything like that! I go without food twice a week to be more holy, and I give lots of money away, too.'

    The second man didn't move from where he was at the back of the church. He was so ashamed of the things he'd done that he didn't even dare to look up. He kept saying over and over again:

    (Second volunteer reads words, sad and sorry.)
    'O God, please forgive me for everything I've done wrong!'

    So now which man do think God was most pleased with?

  6. Remind the children of what you asked them to do before you began the story, i.e. try to work out what Jesus was trying to teach in this story. What do they think it was?

    Jesus finished the story by saying that it was the second man and not the first who was forgiven by God. Ask the children for their ideas about why God was more pleased with the second man than with the first. Hopefully answers will include ideas such as, the first man was big-headed, he thought he was better than anyone else; the second man knew that he'd done wrong, he didn't pretend, he was sorry. Remind them of something else Jesus said: 'Happy are those who know they need God; heaven shall be theirs' (Matthew 5.3).

Time for reflection

Dear God,
Help us today to stay humble.
Keep us from thinking that we are better than other people.
Help us to remember that although we are all different, everyone is valuable.
When we do wrong, help us to own up honestly.
Keep us truthful in everything we say,
so that at the end of the day we can look back and know that we have lived it well.


'O Lord, all the world belongs to you' (Come and Praise, 39)

Publication date: November 2001   (Vol.3 No.11)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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