Today’s Gospel from Luke 18:9-14 is full of contrasts that are worth exploring:
THE PHARISEE TOOK UP HIS POSITION AND SPOKE THIS PRAYER TO HIMSELF
The Pharisee was exalting himself – he was not praying to God but conversing with himself. While the tax collector humbled himself before God: His eyes were not raised, he beat his breast and he prayed – be merciful to me a sinner.
O GOD, I THANK YOU THAT I AM NOT LIKE THE REST OF HUMANITY The Pharisee separates himself from the rest of humanity by making himself to be more than human. Jesus, even though he was God, did not cling to His divinity (Ph 2:6). The Pharisee fell into the same trap that Adam and Eve fell into: God created them in His own image – He wanted them to be like Himself but on His terms. The devil seduced them into believing they could be like God, but on their own terms. Jesus who was God emptied himself, took the form of a servant, and was born a man (Ph 2:6-7). Furthermore, He was not ashamed to call men and women His brothers and sisters (Hb 2:11). Unlike the Pharisee, He identified Himself with humanity – in every way but sin.
(I AM NOT) GREEDY, DISHONEST, ADULTEROUS The Pharisee makes no distinction between sinners and their sin. Jesus on the other hand loves the sinner but hates the sin: He frequently ate with sinners and tax collectors. That’s because He came to seek out and save the lost (Lk 19:10). To those who would stone the adulterous woman He said: Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her (Jn 8:7). While to the adulterous woman He said: Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more (Jn 8:11).
(N)OR EVEN LIKE THIS TAX COLLECTOR
The Pharisee singles out the tax collector for special criticism and condemnation. Jesus also singled out tax collectors, but for a different reason: He looked up at a chief tax collector who had climbed a tree to see Him and said – Zacchae’us, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house. This action resulted in Zacchae’us repentance and subsequent salvation for him and his entire house. Then there was another tax collector named Matthew sitting at his tax office at work. To him He said Follow Me and he rose and followed him – and became an Apostle. Jesus came to call not the righteous but sinners (Mt 9:13) and He demonstrates that it is mercy that turns the sinner away from sin and toward God – not condemnation!
I FAST TWICE A WEEK – AND I PAY TITHES ON MY WHOLE INCOME The Pharisee boasts about his pious practices; but the tax collector has absolutely nothing to boast about – and the truth of the matter is neither do you! It is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast (Eph 2:8,9).
IN CONCLUSION Don’t go home today thinking – Thank you Lord that I am not like that Pharisee. Otherwise you become just like him. Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the last two popes, summed it up this way: There is a bit of the Pharisee and a bit of the tax collector in everyone. So, in your daily life imitate the Pharisee who obeyed the commandments and lived justly and when you are before God imitate the tax collector and beg for God’s mercy for yourself and others!