The reading for the thirtieth Sunday, from Luke 18:9-14, compares the false “righteousness” of the pharisee with the “justification” of the sinner, the tax collector. There is much irony, since the pharisee is a religious leader and the tax collector is something of a pariah to first century Jews. while praying in the temple, the pharisee thanks God that he is not like other men. The tax collector simply asks God for mercy. Of course, Christ finds the words of the tax collector more sincere.
This account reminds us of the Lucan story of the one leper in ten who remembered to thank Christ for the miracle bestowed. Both here and in the account of the leper, Luke illustrates the difference between faith expressed properly and faith not expressed or expressed falsely. In this account, the contrast is between the humility of the tax collector and the hubris of the pharisee. In the story of the ten lepers, the contrast is between the gratitude of the leper and the ingratitude of the other nine. Here is the text of the tax collector and the pharisee:
Jesus addressed this parable
to those who were convinced of their own righteousness
and despised everyone else.
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —
greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;
for whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.