It’s so nice when the Bible tells you the reason part of it was written. Here we are told specifically that this parable was told to some who trusted in their own righteousness and looked down on those they deemed less holy than themselves. In this parable, we have two characters from opposite ends of the respectability spectrum: a Pharisee and a tax collector. If you’ve been following along so far, you will be almost as familiar with these stereotypes as Jesus’s audience, and will probably expect how Jesus subverts those stereotypes.
Both men go to the temple to pray. The Pharisee’s prayer is very boastful, thanking God that he isn’t a sinner like various other men, including the tax collector he says there with him. His prayer is totally focused on himself. The tax collector, instead of praying about himself prays for himself. He is contrite and repentant, knowing that he needs God’s mercy to deal with his sin.
Jesus tells us that the second man was justified before God, contrary to the expectations of His listeners. It is only when people realize they are sinners and can’t do anything about it on their own do they turn to God for salvation. Anyone who is full enough of themselves to think they can handle even their fundamental problems like a sin nature, or so proud to think they are unfixable and God couldn’t possibly accept them, is not going to put their faith in Jesus Christ for their redemption.
God’s divine reversal of human expectations is a consequence of our sin positioning us against Him. So then, if we exalt ourselves, He will humble us because we cannot attain His perfection. Yet if we humble ourselves, acknowledging our proper place before the Lord, He will lift us up and bless us beyond our wildest imaginings.
Let us keep in mind both our sin and Your mercy, with all gratitude and humility.