Summary: Jesus tells a parable about two men who go to the temple to pray: a Pharisee and a tax collector. They pray two very different prayers, and the parable concludes with Jesus declaring that the tax collector, who assumes a posture of contrition and prays a simple prayer asking for mercy, leaves the temple justified, or restored to a right relationship with God. The Pharisee, in his prayer, betrays his contempt for the tax collector. Because Luke’s Gospel treats Pharisees and tax collectors nearly as caricatures, interpreters often get sidetracked in efforts to determine what Jesus is up to in this parable. The parable’s main emphasis, however, falls on the depths of God’s mercy, which results in “justification” even for a tax collector, someone who betrays his own people for personal gain and to support the Roman occupiers. The parable warns that our contempt for others whom we may see as villains does not square with the extravagant grace that God pours out on all who ask for mercy.
I wrote this biblical commentary for those preparing to preach or teach on the passage. Read the commentary at Working Preacher.