Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people, thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.
Although our scripture today is a parable Jesus told to those who considered themselves righteous and regarded others with contempt, we can learn a number of other things from it. It contains Jesus’ simplest guide to prayer ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!” Many liturgies have a prayer of confession after the initial call to worship, saying sorry and admitting our shortcomings to God and we would do well to follow this pattern. The tax-collector in the parable didn’t even move on from this admission of sin and request for mercy to ask for anything else for himself or to intercede for others.
The parable also tells us not to make assumptions about other people. How did the Pharisee know that the tax-collector didn’t also do as he did and fast twice a week and give a tenth of all his income – he didn’t! He assumed that because he was a tax-collector he wouldn’t do such things.
Father God, be merciful to me a sinner. Forgive me for making assumptions about other people and judging them when I am just as much a sinner as they are. God, be merciful to me a sinner. Forgive me for the times I fail to ask for your forgiveness and try to live while still carrying burdens I should have brought to Jesus’ cross and left there. God, be merciful to me a sinner. Forgive me and bless me in all you would have me do and be and achieve for you today. May I bring glory to your name. Amen.