The Master sets the Pharisee and publican in contrast, and His judgment goes against the man who has made some progress in moral attainments, and favours the man who has no victories to show, but only a hunger for victory. The dissatisfied sinner is preferred to the self-satisfied saint. The Pharisee had gained an inch, but had lost his sense of the continent. The publican had not pegged out an inch of moral claim, but he had an overwhelming sense of the untrodden universe.
So this, I think, is the teaching for me. We are justified by the penitent sense of want and not by the boastful sense of possession. Our sense of lack is the measure of our hope, and our measure of hope determines the poverty or fulness of our communion with the Lord. The Pharisee had no "beyond," no realm of admiration, no hope! Aspiration was dead, and therefore inspiration had ceased. Our possibilities nestle in our cravings.