Who is righteous? After all, what the Pharisee says is true. He has set himself apart from others by adherence to the law. So before we judge him too quickly, we must ask ourselves if we have not uttered this same prayer many a time. Maybe we haven’t said that we are better than others; we are just thankful we are not like them. It isn’t that the Pharisee is speaking falsely, but rather, that he misses the true nature of his blessing. As Luke states in his introductory sentence, “he has trusted in himself.” His prayer of gratitude may be spoken to the Lord, but it is really about himself. He locates his righteousness entirely in his own actions and being.
The tax collector knows that he has no means by which to claim righteousness before God. He has done nothing to please God, and has done much to offend the law. For this reason he stands back, finding it hard to approach the holy space, and therefore, can only throw himself on the mercy of the Lord.
Here is the essential contrast: one makes a claim to righteousness based on his own accomplishments while the other relies entirely upon the Lord’s benevolence.
Prayer: Lord of all, be merciful to me a sinner. Amen.
Today’s devotion was written by Dieter Punt, Pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Troutman, NC.
Source: NALC Devotions