He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves
that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else:
"Two men went up to the temple complex to pray, one a Pharisee
and the other a tax collector. the Pharisee took his stand and
was praying like this: 'God, I thank You that I'm not like other
people--greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax
collector. I fast twice a week, I give a tenth of everything I get.'
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise
his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest saying, 'God, turn
Your wrath from me--a sinner!' I tell you, this one went down
to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone
who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles
himself will be exalted.
The startling contrast between the prayers of the Pharisee and the publican furnishes an indication of Christ's standards of value, as applied to the most important realm of men's lives--their approach to God. For some men God can do nothing. Their attitude of heart toward Him, their self-sufficiency and self-complacency, ward off the beneficent intentions of His grace. Their bodies may posture in His house, but their spirits
are an immeasurable distance from Him; and the only result of their miscalled worship is in the continued hardening and deadening of their moral sense. As in nature the action of some streams tends to turn living objects into stone, so does the stream of unfelt and mechanical and self-seeking praying petrify the soul of its offerer.
How simple as to form and direct as to request is the prayer of the publican. Standing "afar off" in the conciousness of the sin which separated him from God, he realized that the was yet alone with Him. "God...mercy...me" are the notes of his heart's cry. But he has already come to know that the span of mercy bridges the sin-gulf, and is confident that even such a one as he is may safely venture across. On its further side the Father awaits him with a welcome which is unmixed with any reproach. Over that scene a veil is drawn, and the sacred intimacy is unrecorded. But from its strengthening assurance the man goes down to his house to declare what God has done for him. He has learned by an experience which nothing can modify, that sin confessed is sin covered, and that life humbled is life exalted, and this is sufficient inspiration for the long moral conflict that is yet before him. Such prayer is the one gateway to the life victorious and beautiful, alike for him and for us. It demands our stooping, but it ensures our salvation.
J. Stuart Holden
The Holy Gospels Opened