In this parable, a Pharisee and a tax collector went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee prayed about how good he was, but the tax collector asked for God’s mercy as he was a sinner. Jesus said that it was the tax collector who went home justified before God. He concluded, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Tax collectors were hated in biblical times and were regarded as sinners. They were Jews who worked for the Romans, so this made them traitors. People resented paying taxes to the foreigners who ruled over them.
Tax collectors were not paid an actual wage by the Romans, they were expected to take extra money and keep some for themselves. Many tax collectors were dishonest and abused this system by taking far too much.
Jesus wants to teach people the importance of praying with the right attitude. This parable is aimed at those who think they are very righteous and look down on others – that is, the Pharisees.
Jews had to pray three times a day and people would go to the temple for private prayer.
The Pharisee stood up to pray, which was the usual practice. The Pharisee prayed about himself, informing God of the wrong things he had not done, “I am not like other men – robbers, evil-doers and adulterers”. Then he spoke about the religious practices he had observed, fasting twice a week and giving tithes.The Pharisee thought he was praying, but the only person he was praising was himself.
The tax collector, on the other hand, put his head down and kept hitting himself to show how sorry he was. He knew he was a sinner and he knew he needed God to forgive him. Nobody can be proud of himself in front of God.
The men went home but only the tax collector had pleased God, as he had been humble and asked for forgiveness. A person’s attitude is important to God.