Saturday of the 3rd Week of Lent
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
An unknown source comes up with an article entitled, “How to be Miserable.” It says: “Think about yourself. Talk about yourself. Use “I” as often as possible. Mirror yourself continually in the opinion of others. Listen greedily to what people say about you. Expect to be appreciated. Be suspicious. Be jealous and envious. Be sensitive to slights. Never forgive a criticism. Trust nobody but yourself. Insist on consideration and respect. Demand agreement with your own views on everything. Sulk if people are not grateful to you for favors shown them. Never forget a service you have rendered. Shirk your duties if you can. Do as little as possible for others.”
The Pharisee in today’s gospel clearly shows us how to be miserable and proud. He is enumerating all his achievements. He compares himself to the tax collector whom by his estimation is rather low. He says: “I am not like the rest of humanity: greedy, dishonest and adulterous.” He is always saying: “I, I, I.” He is really an authentic egoist. And so therefore, like the Pharisee, if we become self-centered and self-seeking, we become too proud and too self-righteous. No wonder that we find it very difficult to associate ourselves with proud people because they always look down or find faults in others.
On the other hand, the tax collector is the model, not of his sinfulness but of his humility to accept it, by which we should spend our life. He stands at the back of the temple and would not even lift his eyes. He never exalts himself. He bows his head and beat his breast which is a sign of his acceptance and acknowledgment of his unworthiness and sinfulness before God. He says: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” And Christ says that he went home justified. We, like the tax collector, are all sinners too. None of us are justified or redeemed without God’s grace.
This gospel passage tells us something about humility that we should practice as followers of Christ:
First, it tells us that humility comes from measuring ourselves against the greatness of God. We know that pride always begins with comparing ourselves with others. But Jesus tells us that the only person we are allowed to compare ourselves to is, God the Father. This is a recipe for humility. He says: “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matt 5:48). St. Augustine also insisted that there are three virtues which are essential for holiness or perfection: humility, humility and humility. If we want to live in humility, we have to keep our eyes on the perfections of God the Father and not on others.
Second, it tells us that we have to pray to God with humility rather than with pride. A humble prayer pleases God. God hears our prayers if we approach Him with humility. I think we are wondering why God accepts one person’s prayer and reject the other’s prayer. Jesus gives us a hint, that is, despising one’s neighbor closes the door to God’s heart. An example for this is the Pharisee by which he mainly prays with himself and disdains for those he despised. While the tax collector, humbles himself before God and begs for mercy. God answers His prayer because he has remorse for his sins. He seeks God with humility rather than with pride.
Third, it tells us that humility demands charity. We naturally tend to judge others. We compare ourselves to others and destroy their reputations through criticism, detraction or slander. But we forget that in God’s eyes, we have been given more and more will be expected from us by doing charity towards our neighbor. Let us always remember that God cannot be where there is no charity and authentic Christianity.