Today's Gospel (Luke 18:9-14) is the familiar story of the Pharisee who puffed himself up in his prayers, and the tax collector who beat his breast.
What if the story had been just a bit different?
Here's the Gospel story:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody 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 up and prayed about [FN: or to] himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men--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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
The Pharisee's problem wasn't that he was grateful to God for what he was not. That seems perfectly OK. I'm grateful to God that I'm not a drug addict, or an alcoholic, or a criminal, or ill, or blind, etc.; I, or anyone, could easily have turned out that way.
I would think it's even OK to be humbly grateful for being able to fast and tithe. Those things can be spiritually beneficial. Not everyone can do them. Those who can, should be grateful.
So where did the Pharisee go wrong? The key to the story seems to be that, in Jesus' eyes, the Pharisee wasn't humbly grateful.
Jesus sees the Pharisee, not as thanking God, but as congratulating him. It's almost as though the Pharisee were high-fiving God because of the Pharisee's success.