“Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.”
Gospel lk 18:9-14
Jesus, in his parable sets up a dichotomy. On one hand is the Pharisee, the devoted follower of the law, and the well respected member of society. On the other side is that tax-collector, disobedient to the law by profession, and disrespected by society. In life that Pharisee was likely viewed with respect, and especially respected for his rapport with God. The taxman was that Pharisees polar opposite. Why then would Jesus use that tax collector as the example of one who prays properly? Jesus sets up a lot of these dichotomies in His teaching, and it is almost always the unexpected one who is the more perfect example. His Beatitudes are a series of dichotomies where the downtrodden and outcast are blessed. That certainly turns the world upside down, just like a prayerful tax collector does. In most of Jesus teaching or parables, the exemplary one is the one who is dependent on God and dependent on Gods mercy. They are the ones who must beg or grovel.That Pharisee has his support from the people, and it seems prays to them to gauge his actions. The tax collector knows what the court of public opinion is, and likely is familiar with the wrath of his community. He can only turn to God because likely few wanted anything to do with him. He knew that need for mercy. On outward appearances the Pharisee the Pharisee was Holy, yet in his prayer all he does is boast of his accomplishments. It is filled with “me” and “I.” It is not a prayer for true thanksgiving, or a prayer for strength, of deliverance, or forgiveness. It is the prayer of a braggart, and especially directed towards man. The tax collectors is simple and it has purpose. It is a clear prayer for mercy, and an authentic acknowledgement of his sinfulness.
The story though is a parable, and parables bring up as many questions as they answer. One question I have to wonder is what would that Pharisees life been like had that tax collector refused to collect taxes? Did that Pharisee maintain an image of holiness by demanding someone else do his dirty work, or did that tax collector allow the Pharisee to be holy by collecting taxes for him? The tax collector after all did ask for mercy, so must have placed great value on mercy. I cant quite figure out what that Pharisee placed value on.