In Luke’s gospel Jesus often sides with those who are so let down by life that they hardly dream of anything better– tax collectors, widows, sinners like the prodigal son. He was criticized frequently by others for associating with people like that, so he must have done it often enough.
The tax collector in the parable we read today, who’s praying in the back of the temple, is an example. Luke recalls earlier in his gospel that Jesus sat down at table with Matthew and some of his tax collector friends in Capernaum. Was he telling their story in this parable?
Staying at a distance, eyes down, the tax collector says only a few words:“O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
The Pharisee’s prayer is so different, so full of himself; he seems to ask only for applause and approval. The tax collector asks only for mercy.
His prayer is heard so shouldn’t we make it our own? Tax-collectors, widows and sinners stand closest to where all humanity stands. We all need God’s mercy. We come to God empty-handed.
“O God come to my assistance. O Lord make haste to help me.”
“O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”