The Pharisee did good things and abstained from doing bad things. And he probably had that "ought always to pray" (Luke 18:1) stuff down pat.
But he measured himself by the wrong standard. Therefore, he thought himself righteous. And despised others. (But they sure served as wonderful benchmarks by which to prove and burnish his own goodness!)
Therefore, as far as God was concerned, the Pharisee succeeded only in praying "with himself." The man had no communion with God. Neither did he receive justification from the Holy One. The Son of man found no Godward faith in this lifted-up heart (Luke 18:8).
On the other hand, the publican knew he was a sinner. He approached God so aware of his own unworthiness that he could not look up toward heaven as he prayed. He wanted a restored relationship with God. He pled with God for mercy.
For that, God heard him and justified him. God forgave this humble heart. Forgiving, He lifted up the cast down sinner from the mire of his sin.
Remember that God exalts those who make themselves low and makes low those who exalt themselves. In the kingdom of God, humility always pays off.
That Greek word is used only twice in the New Testament:
"And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner" (Luke 18:13)
"Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people" (Hebrews 2:17).
In asking for mercy, the publican asked for communion with God. "I am a sinner. God, reconcile me to Yourself."
They looked down on certain people (publicans and sinners). Am I any different if I look down on certain people (Pharisees and scribes)?
Excerpted from Which Am I Like?
Posted on 5-15-16 around 6:00 am Pacific