As one commentator points out ― it all depends on what we compare ourselves to; when we place our lives alongside the life of our Lord even our best efforts fall short.
And that, in part, is the lesson the Pharisee apparently missed out on. He had no business comparing himself to a tax collector or with anyone else as far as that goes. “The root problem of good people,” one scholar boldly declares, “is not that they have a holier-than-thou attitude, but that they possess a holier-than-God attitude.”
Both people in the story today pray to God. But because justification comes when the humble repent, the great reversal takes place. In God’s eyes ― those who exalt themselves like the Pharisee in the parable will be humbled, but those who, like the tax collector, humble themselves and seek God’s mercy, will be exalted.