In this story, told by Jesus, we are not informed of what woke the tax collector to his need of forgiveness. We do learn, however, that the Pharisee - whose prayer of self-congratulation rebounded off the ceiling unheard - had never been awoken to any kind of personal need at all.
What was it about the tax collector's prayer that reached right through into heaven itself?
1. It was a prayer that assumed no privileges.
In God's dealings with us, all ranks are levelled at the Cross; there is no case for anyone claiming "I believe in the right things!... I behave in the right way!... I belong to the right organisation!" You can do all those things and still have no relationship with God at all.
2. It was a prayer that made no comparisons.
The Pharisee believed, not in God, but in his deeds; that by fasting, tithing and religious observance, he was far ahead of others on the road. But he was on the wrong road altogether. What of the tax collector's prayer for God's mercy?
3. It was a prayer that laid no conditions.
Once we acknowledge that we are not good enough for God; that we can do nothing at all to make ourselves acceptable to Him, there is hope for us.
It was the tax collector who was welcomed by God; the other man had not even got out of the gate.