“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.”
The Pharisees were religious, highly moral people. They were leaders in the community. They tried carefully and faithfully to keep the law. They were good, respectable people.
What about tax collectors? They worked for the unbelieving Romans and took extra money for themselves from the taxes they collected. So they were seen as traitors and thieves. Everyone knew that Pharisees were good while tax collectors were bad.
But Jesus saw the truth about people by looking into their hearts.
Jesus tells a story in which we can see the hearts of two men—a Pharisee and a tax collector. How does the Pharisee pray? He does not see his true spiritual self. He thinks he is superior, righteous, better than the tax collector—so in his prayer he boasts about himself.
A person who is truly honest with God does not think that way. Look at the prophet Isaiah. What did he say in God’s presence? “Woe to me! … For I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5), a sinner. Peter said something similar: “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8).
The tax collector’s prayer is like that. Jesus says, “He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’” Any person who repents and calls on Christ will be redeemed by God
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