Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’ (Luke 18:13)
This is a wonderful tale, which proves beyond all doubt that Jesus has a mischievous sense of humour. He pokes fun at the pompous Pharisee - several of whom would gave been amongst his congregation. This is not angry or bitter sarcasm, but a gentle poking of fun, bringing right down to solid earth those who have such a high opinion of themselves.
But the story isn't only poking fun. It is also, when we turn to the tax collector, poignant and sad. Here a wretched and despised man - usually no doubt the butt of many a joke or insult, wrestles with his own inadequacy and failure. He knows his life has gone wrong. He is aware of his sins and failings. And he comes before God, sorry and broken.
So what is the difference between these men? It is not their faith, because both are found at prayer in Temple. It is not their poverty or riches, because both would have been quite wealthy people. It is not age or education either.
No. The difference is that one knows his need of God, and the other does not. One is aware of his failings, while the other is aware only of the failings of others. One can name his sins, while the other can name only sinners.
One is full of contrition, while the other is blinded by pride.
The Pharisee believes his goodness comes from his own efforts, while the tax collector knows that it is only the grace of God which can send him home in peace.