What does Pharisee mean? What was a Publican?
Pharisee: The word itself comes from a Hebrew word meaning "to set apart" or "to separate". The Pharisees were a sect of the Jews. They believed in God, but they also believed that he operated according to their actions. (Your rewards/punishments were based on your works) They added their own traditions to the law, and seemed to think themselves holier because of it. They seemed to pride themselves on following what they said to be law to the letter, and to think this made them better than those they disagreed with.
Publican: These were the tax collectors. Just like today, they weren't the most popular people in town! Often they were said to cheat the people, overcharging or extorting money from them. Thus they were regarded with disgust and contempt. They interacted with the "heathen Romans", which made them even more distasteful in the eyes of the Pharisees.
Now, for the parable. We see both, a pharisee and a publican, entering the temple grounds to pray. The pharisee sees the publican, and starts his prayer thanking God, which in itself is a good thing, but look at what he's thanking him for. He's looking at his fellow man, pointing out his faults, and thanking God that he's not like him! Typical human nature, to think that we're better than others because of our actions, instead of recognizing that we've all been sinners just as unworthy of God's grace as the next person. He goes on to mention his own good works...that he fasted twice in the week (which was in ADDITION to the requirements of the law, another case of the Pharisees adding to the law and thinking it made them better people) and that he gave his tithes.
The publican's interaction with God is vastly different. Instead of seeing the sins of others and feeling himself to be better because he wasn't committing the same ones, he came to God acknowledging that he was a sinner. He didn't even dare to lift his eyes, but kept them lowered and smote himself, which was a common expression of sorrow. This action is telling, in that he was feeling remorse for his sins. Lastly, he doesn't offer any excuses, but begs God for mercy and acknowledges his sinful state.
The last verse in this parable tells us that the publican left justified.
The moral of the story? Proverbs 28:13 He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.
God wants us to acknowledge our sins, and to place our full trust in HIM for our forgiveness and to recognize that it is only through him that we can obtain it, not through works of our own. He will bring down the proud, but those who come to him humbly and with pure intentions will be exalted by Him. We are not to look at others as a barometer of whether we're serving God properly, but only at what God has decreed for us.
Chrys _________________ Teach me thy way, O Lord; I will walk in thy truth.