The tax-gatherers in those days were called Publicans. They were reputed to be very unjust, exacting from people more than the law required them to pay, and other wickedness was charged against them. Of course, there were good men among them; St. Matthew was a tax-gatherer before Jesus called him to follow Him. The Pharisees studied the Scriptures and explained them to the people, but they did not follow the teachings of Scripture. They were proud, and pretended they were more religious than other men, but it was only pretense. Jesus compared them to whited sepulchres, and said they were hypocrites, who led the people astray.
A Pharisee and a Publican went up into the Temple to pray. The Pharisee stood in a part of the Temple where all could see him, and prayed thus: “O God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men, who are unjust, and who take more than belongs to them. I thank Thee that I am not like this Publican. I fast twice a week; I give to the priests and Levites a tenth part of all I possess.” But the Publican, who knew that he was wicked, and felt sorry for it, stood afar off in a quiet part of the Temple where none would see him. He bowed his head and beat upon his breast, saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
Jesus said that this Publican went to his home more forgiven than the Pharisee, for every one that is proud and thinks much of himself shall be put down, and he that humbleth himself and is sorry for his sins, shall be exalted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” says Jesus.