Central to today’s gospel was the proud Pharisee who despised all around him and boasted of all he was doing for God. He was assuming that he had rightly earned the top seat at the heavenly banquet: “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.” Luke notes that “he said this prayer to himself” – it didn’t find its way to God. In this short speech the work “I” appears 6 times while “God” is only mentioned once. He doesn’t recognise that all he has in life is a gift from God in the first place.
The humble tax collector doesn’t depend on his own merits but God’s mercy: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”. We too need to depend on God’s mercy and goodness because it was Jesus’ Sacrifice of Calvary rather than our own good deeds that made atonement for our sins.
How can we model our lives on the humble tax collector rather than on the Pharisee? We do so by making a regular examination of conscience and confessing our sins. The tax collector had a sense of sin and the need to receive forgiveness. This was absent in the Pharisee.
The hymn OLD RUGGED CROSS refers to these fundamentals of Christianity. We all need to associate ourselves with the “world of lost sinners” for which Jesus was “slain”. Thus we can take to ourselves the words of the refrain: “I will cling to the old rugged Cross til my trophies at last I lay down. I will cling to the old rugged Cross and exchange it one day for a crown.” This hymn can be heard on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXAqoZuYvyA
In summary we are told that the prayer of the humble pierces the clouds. The humble man, aware of his own imperfections, approaches God and gives thanks for his forgiveness and blessings. The self-satisfied proud man on the contrary praises himself for his deeds.