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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
As Jesus tells this parable, he loves both the Pharisee and the tax collector but he cautions us that the self-righteous prayer of the Pharisee is not offered in sincerity, but to magnify his good deeds. In another gospel passage, Jesus warns us that if we seek recognition for our good works and have to be seen praying, that we have already been repaid. Yet, if we offer a humble prayer before God, and do not seek the recognition of others, that our treasure will be in heaven.
Personally, I feel uncomfortable talking about anything good that I’ve done because of this gospel. Not to make this seem like it’s a bad verse, but to me I find it wrong to do something just because you want God to be happy with you and not for the sake of helping other people or to make yourself feel good about helping other.
Like for confirmation, I dreaded talking about my service hours. I actually felt like doing more service than I actually reported, so that there was something I could do that I did not have to report to others. I would rather never be thanked for what I’ve done than have to go around telling other people what I’ve done to feel good about myself.
This Gospel reading calls us to be humble and not to brag about our good deeds to others and to imitate Jesus, who never bragged about what he did for others nor complained about fasting in the desert. It also reminds us that we should never cast people aside just because of their past mistakes, when in reality, we ourselves are not perfect.