“Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.” Does that sound familiar? Why can’t everybody be like us? And if you’re not like us, you need to get out of town!
If everybody thought the way we think there would be no problems in the world. Many a king, many a dictator had similar thoughts. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the European missionaries killed countless numbers of people in the name of Christianity. The choice was simple—either accept the Faith or die. We know from history that power was an issue. The so-called “Holy Wars” did not just have the conversion of souls as a goal, but to acquire land, gold, and domination. Therefore the Moors, the Buddhists, the Blacks were not considered to be human. Such mentality makes war justifiable. Prejudice at its best! “Because our God is bigger than your God. My faith is better than your faith. My beliefs are correct and yours are incorrect.” That’s exactly what was going on between the Pharisee and the tax collector. They were both praying. They were both talking to God. However, Jesus said that the tax collector was justified in his prayer but not the Pharisee. Obviously humility is important. Perhaps the Pharisee thought he was being humble by mentioning all the negative characteristics that other people had and he didn’t have. He wasn’t greedy, dishonest or adulterous. All of us try to avoid those same faults. But then why wasn’t he justified? Why did God shun his prayer? Because he put someone else down in order to exalt himself. Not a good idea according to Jesus Christ.
Our Lord never put others down to exalt Himself. He corrected people, guided them, healed them but never ridiculed them. Jesus came to remind us that we are nothing without God’s mercy. We are to approach Him like little children—dependent, in humility, with a sense of wonderment—no titles, no achievements, no prejudices. A true disciple must know how to follow; not rely only on his own strength. The Pharisee had much to boast about. Looking at his life, most of us would agree. A righteous life is something to boast about. Then why does Jesus reject his prayer? Why does he labeled as a false disciple? His heart was hardened against the tax collector.
Maybe the tax collector never heard him. The Tax collector was off at a distance. He did not even look up to see who was there because his head was bowed in humiliation. The Tax collector was aware of his sins. All he did was ask God for mercy. What a wonderful way to pray. Although the Pharisee was a good man and had probably done many good things in his life, Jesus points to the tax collector as the example to follow. Therefore, no matter what our sins are or have been, God’s mercy will always be given to those who ask. Let that reality sink in….God’s mercy will always be given to those who ask. Doesn’t depend on whether we’ve been good or bad—depends on our openness to accept unconditional love. If we get so preoccupied counting our accomplishments or our sins we leave no room for mercy. Unfortunately too many people are convinced that somehow they’ve got to earn their way to heaven; which by the way, suggests that somehow they can also merit to be thrown out of heaven. Imagine—that gives us more power than God. God loves us so much that we cannot begin to imagine, much less try to earn. His love is free—just because. All we have to do is try to love Him back. We can never love Him back by putting other people down, regardless of who they are or how they think or what color their skin is.
God loves the sinner who asks to be forgiven. May all of us be counted as humble sinners who will always ask for mercy.