The tax collector went home justified. Did he repent?
Clearly, he admits his sinfulness and begs for God’s mercy, but it is not clear to me whether he actually had a firm purpose to amend his life and “sin no more”. The parable is silent on this point. The parable would seem to have two completely different meanings, depending on the answer to this question.
If he had a firm purpose of amendment (with the help of God’s grace, of course) then he would walk away from the Temple resolved to renounce his life of sin. See, Zachaeus in Luke 19:1-10, who clearly had a firm purpose of amendment. He promised the Lord that he would give half his money to the poor and that he would restore the money he had extorted several times over.
If he had no firm purpose of amendment, but rather was simply acknowledging his sinfulness and seeking God’s mercy even though he intended to continue his evil ways (even, perhaps, out of despair of the ability to reform his life), then how was he justified? This interpretation would seem to support the idea of salvation by faith alone, as well as the “total depravity” of man.
Yet, the focus of the parable seems to be on his mere acknowledgement of his sinfulness and his dependence upon God rather than upon repentance, i.e., an intention to act differently in the future. Perhaps I am focused on the wrong issue. Perhaps this parable is about self-righteousness and humility and intends to go no further. But then, Jesus says the tax collector “went home justified”, which does take it further. This has bugged me for a while. To me, it only makes sense if the tax collector not only acknowledged his sinfulness and dependence upon God but also firmly intended to change his ways. But then, why does the parable not say that he intended to reform his life?