Obviously one man’s prayer is salvific and “at rights with God”. The other man’s prayer does not make him at rights with God. So we need to have a good look at the difference between the two.
Luke begins: “Jesus spoke this parable to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else” Obviously, this does not apply to us!!. Or maybe it does?
The Pharisee’s prayer. Luke says that he stood there and prayed this prayer to himself. This could mean that he prayed silently. Luke seems to play a pun on the words. Prayer is of course directed to God. If you start praying to yourself, you are in trouble!
“I thank you God that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind.” This part of the prayer could earn a pass. I am sure that there are times when you and I can thank God for our life. We can thank God for differences in culture and creed. For example, I can thank God for my Catholic education, for my Australian culture. I can thank God for the many blessings I have being in a Community. That part of the Prayer earns a Pass. But the next part earns a condemnation and the wrath of God, “and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here.” That’s the bit that does the damage. It is fine that he fasts and tithes. It is bad that he judges.
The lesson is to keep the bad naming of other people out of our prayers. To sit in judgement is to call judgement on one’s self. To thank God for everything in life is a good prayer. To exalt yourself is to seek humiliation.
On the other hand, the prayer of the Publican is the other extreme. He is the image of a backslider, a non-practicing member of the religion. He lays his life open to the gift of Divine Mercy.
Jesus teaches again on Prayer. The prayer of preference is: “God, be merciful to me a sinner”. “This man I tell you went home at rights with God”.
This is another of Luke’s great stories. It tells the story of two extremes. e.g. the Prodigal Son. This story is a contrast between a religious person and a non-practicing believer. You and I are somewhere in between and we must not miss the point.