Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine
The parable of the Pharisee and the publican is one of Jesus' typical parables in that there is a major reversal of expectations. The parable is a reversal because it's the Pharisee who is religious and cares about practicing his religion who is criticized, rather than the corrupt tax collector. The problem is that Christians tend to hear this as a fulfillment rather than a reversal of expectations because we tell it in a manner that is critical of the Pharisee. What needs to happen in telling the story is to convey its basic character as a parable that reverses expectations.
The prayer of the Pharisee is a confident and pious prayer. There is an unusual degree of confidence and even self-exaltation in the parable, but don't make fun of the Pharisee in the telling. Use the tone of a normal prayer of thanksgiving.
The Pharisee's posture is standing and opening arms in prayer. It is a prayer with significant volume so that others could hear him. It's a prayer of thanksgiving: "Oh Lord I thank you." There is no petition, no confession. The sound of the Pharisee's prayer is the sound of one who is giving thanks for the righteousness that he has been given by God. Itis not a bad prayer. The Greek word at the beginning of the prayer is eucharisteo, eucharist.
The tax collector's words are the words of a sinner who recognizes his sin and is beating his breast. His prayer is a quiet prayer of humility. His prayer is short and therefore slow. The posture is either sitting or kneeling, not looking up, quiet and beating his breast. I suggest that as you tell the parable you do this action.
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