When comes the evening of life, I shall stand before Thee with empty hands, because I do not ask Thee, my God, to take account of my works. All our works of justice are blemished in Thine Eyes. I wish therefore to be robed with Thine own Justice, and to receive from Thy Love the everlasting gift of Thyself. - St. Therese of Lisieux
Lk 18:9-14: Jesus addressed this parable
to those who were convinced of their own righteousness
and despised everyone else.
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —
greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week,
and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;
for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
We find ourselves near the middle of the wonderful season of Lent, a time that allows us to assess our progress or lack thereof. Lent gives the opportunity to look at ourselves from the perspective of the most important relationship of our lives as Christians: where is Christ in our day-to-day lives? Do I each day find God and Christ in their desire to relate to me?
Today’s gospel models for us the way we are to relate to God. The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector present two models of how to relate to God. The Pharisee, a religious authority, and a tax collector, a publicly branded sinner both went to the temple to pray.
The Pharisee was “convinced of (his) own righteousness” and he prayed out of that certainty, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity –greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector.” He then proceeds to tell God what he does and how he acts, “I fast. . . I pay tithes. . .” Can I see in the Pharisee’s prayer my own inclination to list the good things that I am “doing” or “avoiding” during Lent with an implied “what are you doing for me, O God?”
On the other hand the tax collector, a known sinner, stood off to a distance and prayed, “Be merciful to me a sinner.” The gospel goes on to say that the tax collector went away “justified” while the Pharisee did not. Why? Because “(the one) who exalts himself will be humbled.”
What a marvelous lesson is here for us in the stance towards God of the Pharisee and that of the tax collector. The Pharisee is led into pride and the tax collector is led to humility. The Pharisee saves himself while the tax collector recognizes that he is far from being saved and rests that salvation on God. He went home “justified” and the Pharisee did not.
Those you have ears should listen, most importantly me!