The parable of the pharisee and the tax collector in this week’s gospel bears out the common theme with the previous week’s gospel, the parable of the unjust judge. The common thread is the theme of vindication, justification, exoneration.
Last week, the widow’s just cause was vindicated; the widow represents those who were suffering oppression. This week, we have a reversal. The Pharisee, who was so sure that he was vindicated by God, has his prayer rejected, while the corrupt tax collector goes home justified and accepted by God.
The sinner, (tax collector) who confesses his sinful condition, not the righteous, (Pharisee) is justified by God. We must resist the temptation of making the Pharisee the chump and the tax collector a hero, both of whom got what they deserved. To do that would undermine the surprise of God’s grace. The story was offensive and shocking to its first listeners and probably understood continues to shock sensibilities.
The Pharisee’s prayer: “I thank you that I am not…….” and resemble the spirit and pattern of prayer found in Psalm 17:3-5. His prayer rings with arrogance, but his claims were not idle boasts. The tax collector had, on the other hand, made a moral mess of his life.
The thing that separated them from one another and from God was their attitude: pride on the part of the Pharisee and humility on the part of the tax collector.
Rev Samata Elia