The tax collector’s need was nothing but God’s compassion and mercy. He had nothing else upon which to lean. He was without hope and without help. The world could do nothing for him. He was a sinner, an outcast, a publican—the one that no one wanted to be with or around—the one that no one wanted to be like.
Yet he recognized and acknowledged his lost condition. And on the Lord alone he sought help and pardon and peace for his transgressions—for all that he had done wrong and for all that he had not done right. He turned to the Lord alone for forgiveness, entrusting and commending himself to God’s mercy for salvation from his sin. And there—and only there—he had it.
The tax collector, Jesus says, Went down to his house justified. The other, however, the self-righteous Pharisee, did not.
The self-righteous Pharisee was not at all like the tax collector. He didn’t even see himself as a sinner before God, let alone the sinner, as the humble tax collector had. Instead, he actually thanked God that he was not like the tax collector.
Rather than humble himself before God and demonstrate a true faith by seeking God’s compassion and mercy according to His Word and promise (for this is what true faith does), the Pharisee instead demonstrated crass unbelief and idolatry by rejecting any need for forgiveness or further kindness from God. It was as if the Pharisee believed that God was to thank him for being as he was, that God should reward him for what he did, that he himself was God’s gift to the world.