This teaching takes the form of a parable about two men who go to the temple to pray. Each man’s prayer reflects something about his heart – and they couldn’t be more different!
The Prayer of the Proud Man (v.9-12) – The first character is a Pharisee. He is clearly impressed with himself and lists some of the things that he was doing that showed his godliness. In particular he was thankful that he was not like other men. Even though he did give thanks to God for this it was a prayer that was full of pride and a sense of superiority. The focus of his prayer was not God but himself, and he didn’t even end up asking for anything from God.
The Prayer of the Broken Man (v.13) – The second character is the tax collector. This was a profession that was notorious in their culture because they enabled the oppression of the people at the hands of the Romans in order to make profit for themselves. He would not be able to rival the Pharisee’s list of good deeds, but his prayer did show a much greater level of self-awareness and also of understanding of God. He stayed a distance off and wouldn’t look to heaven. He knew that he is an unworthy sinner and came asking for mercy. Instead of coming loaded with his own achievements, he came empty and ready to receive from God.
Jesus’ Verdict (v.14) – Jesus says that it is the second man who who goes away justified. When we approach God with pride in ourselves then we will end up being humbled, but when we approach with humility and brokenness then God will give us mercy and we will be exalted.