This is a classic setup to one of Jesus’ parables: be like this and not like that. By now, we all know the pattern: Be like the Good Samaritan, and not like the priest or Levite who looked the other way when they saw a hurting man. Be like the one who chooses the lowest place at the banquet table, and not like the one that assumes the highest place of honor. Be like the gracious king who forgave the large debt instead of the ungrateful servant who demanded repayment. Be like the tax collector who confessed his need for mercy, and not like the Pharisee who displayed haughty arrogance and pride.
But while these stories may seem easy to grasp upon first reading, there is a reason why they have been read and dissected for nearly two-thousand years. In today’s story, for example, we are all easily tempted to fall into the trap of becoming like the contemptuous and boastful Pharisee. We are also prone to say, “Thank God I’m not like those other people. I’m so much better than that!” We forget the need to confess our own sins of pride and arrogance. We fail to remember that we all rely upon God’s boundless mercy.
The tax collector’s humble prayer of, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” is an appropriate confession of our own dependence upon God’s grace and mercy. Take a moment to stop and pray this simple prayer right now, and thank God for new mercies each and every day.