"Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 'Two men went up to the temple to pray one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, "God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess." And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!" I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.'"
This parable was addressed to some "who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others." It seems likely that this parable was primarily a condemnation of the Pharisees. However, it is also certainly a condemnation today of any disciple who manifests a proud, self-righteous attitude.
The two men literally went "up" to the temple (which was on Mt. Moriah). One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector (cf. Matt. 3:7; Luke 3:12,13). The average Jewish person would have considered this parable to represent a contrast between a hero (i.e., the Pharisee) and a villain (i.e., the tax collector). These men represent the extremes of the Jewish social and religious life.
Luke 18:11 states - "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself." He was praying by himself, to himself, and about himself. He probably put himself in a prominent place where he could be seen (and perhaps heard; cf. Matt. 6:5).
"God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector" - Although he uses the word "thank," his prayer really does not express any thanks for blessings from God. This man may not have been an adulterer, etc., but his proud, self-righteous attitude was atrocious (cf. Matt. 5:3). It is clear that this man has an "I" problem, having used the term five times in Luke 18:11,12. Those today who think a lot of themselves also love to talk about themselves.
"I fast twice a week" - He now proceeds to confess his positive attributes (but not any of his sins!). He, like the other Pharisees, probably fasted on Mondays and Thursdays, and made sure others knew about it (cf. Matt. 6:16-18)! The law only required a Hebrew to fast once a year (i.e., on the Day of Atonement; cf. Lev. 16:29,30).
"I give tithes of all that I possess" - His attitude is such that he may have almost expected God to give thanks to him!
The second man stands in stark contrast to the first. "And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'" (Luke 18:13). This man realized his wretched condition and did not feel worthy to look toward heaven (cf. Ezra 9:6; Psa. 40:12). He shows his remorse for his sins by beating his breast and pleading for mercy. May we today be humble enough to beg for God's mercy when we sin (cf. I John 1:9). May we, like him, not make excuses to God for our transgressions!
Jesus states His conclusion: the tax collector was the one who "went down to his house justified," not the Pharisee (cf. Prov. 30:12,13). The tax collector was conscious of his sins and begged for God's mercy (cf. Isa. 66:2).
"For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:14; cf. Rom. 12:3; Phil. 2:3,4). Pride is a sin that is all too common in the world. It seems respectable to its owner, because it blinds him to the truth.
It is interesting to observe that these two men were alike in many ways: (1) They were both Jews (i.e., the right people under the Old Law), (2) They were both at the right place (the temple), (3) They were there for the right purpose (worship), (4) They both cared enough to show up (which implies conviction), and (5) They both stood as they prayed. However, despite their similarities they differed in more significant ways: (1) The way in which they stood (one stood proudly while the other bowed in shame), (2) Their attitude toward God and their fellowman, and (3) The results of their prayers (33 words did not accomplish what 7 words did!).
May we humbly seek God's grace always, considering others as better than ourselves, and remembering our proper place as His created servants!