[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat 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 who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
(Luke 18:9-14 ESV)
In this story, Jesus is not just criticizing someone on the religious right. He is criticizing anyone who is arrogant enough to forget or whitewash the sin they have done and focus on all their perceived great accomplishments. That seems to hit both sides of the political spectrum. There are many “Pharisees” who pretend to be religious and pure (sinner is always a word for others and not themselves) and there are many who are liberally approving of all kinds of actions and omissions so that they won’t be able to consider themselves sinners either. Both are trusting in themselves that they are righteous (aka self-righteous), and both demonize and hate others who don’t fit their personal standards. The humble person who takes up God’s standards, sees his evil and due to acknowledging pride expects more evils that he can’t see, that person will be forgiven and justified as righteous before God for his faith in God’s Word. So says Jesus (see also Rom 3-4).
The Tax collector’s prayer was heard and his faith rewarded because it was not a blind faith in his own ability to clean up by his own standards. It was not even a faith in his ability to meet God’s standards. Rather it was a faith in God’s guarantees that He forgives truly repentant sinners, cleans them up, and considers them righteous until such time as they really are made righteous (i.e. sinless by God’s standards). Until then, our faith in God and his Word about Jesus is counted as righteousness. I pray you are enjoying that very gift with me.
“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”