"Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in a week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (Lk. 18:9-14).
It is quite likely that the Pharisee depicted in this parable was not a bad man; he did no harm to anyone. The parable does not say, however, that he has done any real good works; rather, he strictly follows the various, minute, secondary religious rites, even those of them which were not required by the Old Testament laws. Following these rites, he had no mean opinion of himself. He fits this expression of St. John Chrysostom, "He judged the whole world but justified himself!" People of this disposition are unable to evaluate themselves critically, repent and start a good life. Their moral self is dead. More than once, the Lord Jesus Christ publicly castigated the hypocrisy of Judaic scribes and Pharisees, but in this parable Christ only remarks that it was the tax collector who ‘went down to his house justified rather than the other’; in other words, it was the tax collector's sincere repentance that was accepted by God.
These three parables let us understand that a human being is fallen and sinful. A human has nothing to boast of before God. But with sincere repentance he must come back to his Heavenly Father and expose his life to the leadership of God’s grace, like the lost sheep who passed the work of its salvation to the good shepherd!
The following parables teach us to follow God in His mercy, and how to forgive and to love our neighbors — people both close and distant alike.