“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14, NIV).
Jesus told a story that contrasted the prayer offered by a Pharisee with the prayer of a tax collector. In this story the Pharisee portrays a good and moral person–a religious person–and the tax collector portrays an immoral and sinful person.
While their behavior is similar–praying at the temple–their words and the attitudes expressed by their prayers are quite different. The Pharisee is absolutely certain of his righteousness while the tax collector is obviously doubtful of his.
Like many of Jesus’ parables the meaning is revealed as an unexpected truth, a contradiction of commonly-held beliefs; the interpretation is in the inverse! In God’s Kingdom (in contrast to the way things are in this present world) those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.