Luke 18:9-14 records a brief, and seemingly fairly straight forward, parable told by Jesus.
A Pharisee comes to pray and is very quick to tell God how good he is and how much unlike the “sinner” he is.
A “sinner” (tax collector) comes to pray and with face down he beats his chest and makes no claims but simply asks for “mercy”.
And in that word we have the key. Most times in scripture when we see mercy it means have pity — compassion on me.
In this text it is a different word that it used. The word “mercy” or “have mercy” — be “merciful” is from a word meaning atonement — paying the price:
So what is the point? Forget what we know about Pharisees and consider that this man was an honest, upright, family man who was faithful to his wife. The Sinner was a traitor and one who lived a drunken and partying lifestyle on the back of the taxpayers.
The Pharisee we would elect as an Elder in our church — the Sinner would be lucky to get through the door without being eyed suspiciously.
We come to God in prayer trying to impress God with our morality and all we have done.
God is looking for us to come recognizing that like the Sinner we have nothing to offer but a plea for complete mercy — for reconciliation — for salvation — for Jesus.