Commentary on the Gospel of
St. Teresa of Child Jesus had a very special liking for the parable of the Pharisee and Tax collector. It is not hard to see why. “Jesus spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and therefore despised others. Two men went up to the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector” (Luke 18:9-10). For the Jewish people who were listening to Jesus, the Pharisees were the good guys who try to do everything right. The tax collectors were the bad guys who have aligned with the Roman Empire and are taking money from their own Jewish people to give to the empire. So, no one likes the tax collectors, and everyone looks up to the Pharisees.
The tax collector admits his powerlessness before God. That's why Jesus says he goes home “justified.” On the other hand, the Pharisee, who has followed the rules and done it right, is too filled with himself to have any room inside for God. The religion of the tax collector is religion as receptivity, rather than religion as self-assertion and willpower. Perfection is not the exclusion of the contaminating element, but in fact, perfection is the ability to include imperfection.
Imperfection is the organizing principle of the entire human, historical, and spiritual enterprise. Imperfection, in the great spiritual traditions, is not just to be tolerated, excused, or even forgiven. It is the very framework inside of which God makes the God-self known and calls us into gracious union. It's what allows us - and sometimes forces us - to “fall into the arms of the living God” (Heb 10:31)