Luke 18 9 – 14
Jesus told a story to some people who thought they were better than others and who looked down on everyone else:
Two men went into the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee stood over by himself and prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not greedy, dishonest, and unfaithful in marriage like other people. And I am really glad that I am not like that tax collector over there. I go without eating for two days a week, and I give you one tenth of all that I earn.”
The tax collector stood off at a distance and did not think he was good enough even to look up toward heaven. He was so sorry for what he had done that he pounded his chest and prayed, “God, have pity on me! I am such a sinner.”
Then Jesus said, “When the two men went home, it was the tax collector and not the Pharisee who was pleasing to God. If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honoured.”
Short Gospels call for deep reading. Often it is easy, especially with the parables we know well, to accept the obvious. The Pharisee belongs to a group whose life is the Law, with all the 613 precepts that must be obeyed. He belongs to a group that has privilege and status. Many of the laws he is able to fulfil because he has the time and the money to fulfil them and for this he claims full responsibility. He proclaims his own praises; he prays – to himself. God can do nothing for this man except act as an audience. The only one who is not like the rest of mankind – is, surely, God. The Pharisee stands in the Temple and commits the greatest sins that there is – he does not love God; he certainly does not love others.
At the beginning of the Mass, we admit that we come as sinners to the Table of the Lord; we join with the tax collector in the Kyrie – ‘Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy, Lord have mercy’.
We look inwards to our need of God and offer ‘what we have done and what we have failed to do’. This is our gift to God; that we know only God can heal us. This awareness of what we hold is a state of grace; of openness to God.
It’s not a comfortable position to put ourselves in; it is easier to add ‘but at least I’m not as bad as… at least I come to church…at least I’ve done…’ which always means trying to hide from God and comparing ourselves to another. An ‘other’ that we are meant to love as we love ourselves