I am very fond of this passage, largely because at times I have caught myself listing off the correct way I live, like the Pharisee; I try not to sin; I obey the law; I give a portion of what I receive back regularly to God who gives all; I do not cheat, and so on. This is all well and good, and Jesus in this passage does not accuse the Pharisee, or me, of false faith. But then the Pharisee judges and compares himself to the tax collector, thinking, thank heavens I am not like that lowly wretch. Ah, there’s the rub.
The tax collector, on the other hand, “standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.'” (verse13) There is no listing of his good deeds, no comparison to others or judgment of others. The tax collector knows himself too well and humbly acknowledges his shortcomings to his God, asking for God’s mercy. He is a sinner.
The tax collector indeed is in a right relationship with God. And Jesus says that it is he who will leave the temple justified.
Lord, may I strive to be in right relationship with you daily. Amen. — JB