The Pharisee standing by himself is imprisoned by his piety and for all his tithing and fasting and righteous living he is farther away from God than the tax collector standing far off. The tax collector in the company of thieves, rouges and adulterers is equally imprisoned by his impiety but closer to God because of his humility (or is it shame?) which is entirely appropriate for the life he lives and the company he keeps. Of course he is still far off, physically and spiritually, despite being justified for knowing who he is. He will never be able to lift his head or give his breast a break until being justified goes beyond saying I’m sorry. But the parable is not about the tax collector nor does it encourage us to “go and do likewise.” The parable is about people whose pride in practicing religion makes the practice of religion meaningless despite all the effort put into ordering life by religious practices. One cannot be close to God standing by oneself. So perhaps being close to God is to live like a Pharisee and pray like a tax collector?