The Pharisee goes to confirm his religious practices as part of his ritual and to show off how humble he is. It seems he does all the right things for the day.
If it were today he might say:
"God, thank you that I am not like other people; thieves, benefit frauds, paedophiles, or even like this traffic warden. I always give something up for Lent, I’ve got a direct debit set up for all the charities – with gift aid! - I recycle, I don’t leave my television on standby, I come to the 9.45 AND evensong as well as listening to Songs of Praise, I’ve read the WHOLE bible three times!"
Then there’s another person, hiding away in a corner, crying
The second is the one who goes home justified.
“God, show me mercy, I’ve done wrong!”
It’s not that giving to charity and caring for the environment or coming to church is wrong. Far from it; it’s the outworking of a living faith in God. It was the attitude that was wrong. The Christian life is doing the right thing for the right reason in the right way. Or as in the case of the second man, doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason in the wrong way but admitting that and, in the right way, confessing it to God in humility.
Quite often those outside the church think that all we're about is the church going and hymn/worship song singing* (*delete as applicable!) when, as much as that is how we express our praise, it is not the only way and it is not all that we are as Christians - or, at least, it should not be. How do we encourage our young people, our church members and ourselves to live out our faith so that we are known not for our singing but for our humility?