Luke 18:9-14 There’s a little of the Pharisee and the tax collector in all of us. Sometimes we feel justified in our actions and other times we feel like the worse sinner in the world.
The Pharisee was a priest, a religious leader, a person who knew the law. Obviously the Pharisee in the story had no respect for anyone, who he thought, didn’t keep the law. Remember that Jesus criticized the Pharisees because they took care to look good on the outside, but did not pay attention to their attitude. Outward appearance was more important than how they treated others. Do we make judgment calls? Do we judge how people are dressed, their life-style, if they are rich or poor? Sadly, we continue to judge others, which means that we are acting just like the Pharisee. In the story the Pharisee was supposedly praying to God. In his prayer, he betrayed his prejudice. If we kept our prejudices to ourselves, if we kept them confined to our prayers, not much damage would be done. Problems happen when we gossip. “Did you see ‘so and so’ go up to receive Holy Communion—knowing that they are not suppose to?” “Look who’s back in town after having spent 15 years in jail.” “I always said that that boy would not amount to much, now he can’t even find a job.” Naturally, negative comments spread a lot faster than compliments. Negative gossip is juicy. We are more likely to believe a scandalous remark than when someone praises a person. Who would have dared to say anything negative about the Pharisee? Jesus dared. Jesus could see inside; He could see the soul; his intentions. Although the tax collector had many faults, he was repentant. He asked for God’s mercy.
Mercy never entered the prayer of the Pharisee. He was too busy praising himself. The Pharisee had done all things well. In the eyes of his peer, he was beyond reproach. He lifted himself up but he put the tax collector down. We learned similar behavior as children: if somebody is on top, then somebody got to be on the bottom. The tax collector recognized that he was at the bottom, while the Pharisee assumed that he was at the top. According to Jesus, the opposite was true. The tax collector was the greater man. Jesus pointed to what really matters—humility.
Takes humility to admit that we are not perfect. Only God is perfect. Every one of us has faults; and we need God’s grace to rise above our defects. A blatant sign that many of us do not recognize our dependency upon the Lord is the decrease in the number of confessions. Parishioners of Our Lady Of Sorrows need to be congratulated because there are so few sins in this parish. If the Sacrament of Reconciliation had existed when Jesus told the story, the tax collector would have been first in line to confessed his sins and the Pharisee would have stayed away because he would have rationalized that he didn’t need to be forgiven. “I’m not the greatest sinner. There are others much worse. Why take the priest’s time?” Forgiveness is free. However, we have to ask—we have to be humble enough to admit that we are not self-sufficient. In Reconciliation we have to look into the mirror and see ourselves for who we are. The Lord delights in a contrite heart—because a repentant soul becomes empty. God cleans every stain and restores us to the innocence of our Baptism. A person who is unwilling to repent, who is not humble, leaves no room for God’s grace. The tax collector is our model of holiness. We want to follow his example.
Through the years several versions of the Act of Contrition have been written. One of the best came from the mouth of the tax collector: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”