In reading this parable Luke 18: 9-14 it’s only natural for us to take the side of the tax collector. After all these months of discussing Luke, we’re pretty sure we have a good handle on what he’s trying to tell us. We know that Luke was writing to an elite audience whose rigorous adherence to the law revealed its position in society. Besides, anytime we try to draw a line between who's "in" and who's "out" as this parable asserts, it’s reasonable to assume that God is on the side of the poor wretched tax collector. But, stopping there is too easy and is Luke’s red herring. Once we fall prey to the temptation that divides humanity into groups, we have aligned ourselves squarely with the Pharisee.
This parable is not about self-righteousness and humility anymore than it’s about a pious Pharisee and desperate tax collector. Rather it’s about God…who alone can judge and “justify.” Judgment is based on law and is at the mercy of human interpretation and bias. David Steindl-Rast writes in Deeper Than Words that Justice is rooted in love not law…and is not a matter of imposing laws, as one imposes with a cookie cutter, patterns on flattened dough; it’s more like the yeast in the dough, it makes things work from within …Judging does not mean punishing but setting things right. Genuine justice ‘justifies’ in the way the printer justifies the lines on a page by making the margins straight. In nature whatever we look at closely shows itself ‘justified’---in harmony with divine order…nature is the great example of love in this sense.
This story is at the very heart of the good news. God sees all about us, and knows all about us—good and bad--and accepts us as we are.