Grace to you!
You may have heard the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) over and over again. Perhaps, you have also gleaned some aspects of the story very important in understanding the two personalities.
You would realize that both of them were believers in the same God. Both belonged to the same religion and both worshipped in the same temple. At the end of the worship, one goes home at peace with God, but the other doesn’t. Why?
Though many of us may have a wrong conception of the Pharisees, we will appreciate this story more if we learned that the Pharisees were the most disciplined and religious of all the Jews. They were serious-minded believers who had committed themselves to a life of regular prayer and observance of God's Law. In fact, they went beyond the requirements of the law. They fasted twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays, even though the law only required people to fast once a year, on the Day of Atonement. They gave tithes of all their income and not just of the required parts.
When the Pharisee in the parable said, “I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income,” (Luke 18:11-12) he wasn't kidding. Few Christians today can measure up to the visible moral standards of the Pharisees.
Tax collectors, on the other hand, were generally regarded as people of low moral standards, except that they still hoped for salvation not on the merits of any religious or moral achievements of theirs, but on the gracious mercy of God. Here is the radical difference.
Jesus told this parable against the Pharisees because they “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt” (verse 9). The tax collector, on the other hand, trusted not in himself or in anything he had done, but only in God’s mercy. Standing far off, he would not even look up to heaven, but beat his chest and prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (v. 13). This is the man who went home at peace with God, and not the self-righteous Pharisee.
Let us learn from the tax collector the secret of worshipping in a manner that is acceptable to God. Firstly, we should not listen to other people or even to our own consciences when they tell us that God is so angry with us and that God cannot possible forgive us. God is kind and merciful – trust God’s mercy.
Secondly, we must acknowledge our sinfulness, confess them and entrust ourselves to the generous mercy of God which is bigger than any sins we might have committed. May we not presume the mercy of God.
Finally, we promise God to never look down on our fellow sinners, but to help them in their search for God, just like the figure of the tax collector is helping us today in our appreciation of Divine Mercy.
May I end with this wonderful story told by Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. He visited the prisons. The prisoners expected the renowned Catholic speaker to mesmerize them with his oratory. Instead, he spoke with a sincere tone of humility: The sin you committed I committed. The difference is that you where caught in the act whereas I wasn’t.
Remember, God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). “The humble man’s prayer pieces the clouds….” (Sirach 35: 17).
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.