There are perhaps few things so frightening to contemplate as the possibility that one has fundamentally misinterpreted one’s stance before God. The Pharisee in today’s gospel
represents the dangerous tendency in most of us to exalt ourselves at the expense of others. He is, in one sense, a good Jew. Jesus does not find fault with his fasting and tithing. But his words suggest that he does not consider himself a sinner, and in fact looks down on those who are.
His “thanksgiving” is entirely self-congratulatory and he neither gives God praise nor asks God for anything. The tax collector on the other hand is a stereotypical sinner who, crucially, knows he is in need of mercy. He goes home justified because he asked for mercy and received it. The Pharisee did not go home justified because he did not ask for mercy; he did not think he needed it. What about us? Do we think we need mercy? Do we ask for it?