The parable of the pharisee and the tax collector is found in Luke 18:9-14. In it, Jesus tells the story of two men: One who believed he was righteous because of his actions and one who confessed that he was nothing but a sinner. Jesus makes the point that the humble man is exalted before God. Use classroom activities to teach students the meaning of this parable.
Give each child a balloon. Do not blow them up. Ask the students to stretch, pull on and twist the balloons. They should find that the deflated balloons are pliable and flexible. Tell the students that a humble man is like the deflated balloons. God can use someone who is humble because he can be bent to His will. Then, ask the students to blow up their balloons, or you can distribute balloons that have been blown up and tied. A prideful man, like the pharisee -- who was proud of his fasting and tithing -- is like a balloon filled with air. He cannot be manipulated for God's purposes. In fact, if he gets too full of himself, he will pop and be broken and useless. Remind the students that too much pride is a sin, and that people should always be humble before God.
In Luke 18:14, Jesus states that those who exalt themselves, or who are prideful, will be humbled. But on the other hand, those who are humble will be exalted by God. Explain that this means those who think they are better than others are not looked at favorably by God. Instead, God praises and raises up those who are humble, modest and know that they owe everything to God. Brainstorm with the students ways they can show modesty and be humble. For example, a child can offer to do something for his parents without asking for anything in return, or he can give something to someone without asking when they will get it back. Older students can write a list of ways to show humility, while younger students might draw a picture or share ideas out loud.
Draw a simple picture of the pharisee -- perhaps a stick figure with his arms raised. Also draw a simple picture of the tax collector -- perhaps a stick figure bowing to the ground or pounding his chest. Draw the pictures on cardboard or on poster board so that you can easily hold them up in the air. Then, tell the students to act like the figure in the picture. Hold up the pharisee and see how the students act. They should act in prideful ways, boasting about how great they are or how they will surely go to heaven. Then, hold up the picture of the tax collector, and ask them to do the same. You might also divide the children into two groups, or call them up in pairs of two to role-play in front of the class.
Remind the students that it is impossible to be completely humble because people are all sinners. Tell them that people can get help by praying to God and by reading the Bible. One way to make sure people are humble, even when they pray, is to remember the word "JOY." Each letter in the word stands for how to pray. The letter "J" stands for Jesus -- when people pray, they should praise and thank Jesus first. The letter "O" stands for others -- next in a prayer should come requests for others. Finally, the letter "Y" stands for "you" -- prayers should end with a person's own personal requests and needs. Putting oneself last, even in prayer, is a good way to practice humility.