The Pharisees were concerned with the correct application of the Law, they always decided on the strictest application of the Law. They tries to make themselves “pure” and formed cliques that only eat with each other and did business among themselves. Their actions were designed to make themselves different from other people, on whom they looked down with disapproval. In their own eyes, they were the only true believers. Jesus made it clear that he opposed them and called them hypocrites, white-washed tombs.
On the other hand the Tax Collectors were working for the ‘enemy’ the Romans. They collected their Taxes from the people and would add an amount for their wages. The ordinary Jews despised them believed that they were cheating people and getting rich of the ordinary Jewish people. (Often true – Zaccheus!) They considered them unclean as they were working for their oppressors.
With whom do we identify when we listen to Jesus’ story of the two men in the temple. It really cannot be with the Pharisee! Does that mean that we would like to be the far-from-popular Tax Collector? Or would it, after all, be better to identify with the Pharisee? Are they just as bad as each other? Jesus’ parables often contain this kind of teasing ambiguity. The answer is that we are neither like the Pharisee nor the Tax Collector, but if we are honest we will admit that we can see something of each of them in ourselves.