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8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
Luke 18: 9-14
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Ask yourself: Who went home justified before God?
How easy it is for us to exalt ourselves by telling God and fooling ourselves – telling ourselves that we are better than other people!
Isn’t it easy for us to judge and condemn other people different from ourselves?
Isn’t it easy for us to judge and condemn people with addictions; alcohol, sex, drugs, gambling, pornography, etc., people incarcerated in prison and to exalt ourselves by saying, “well at least I’m not like them!”
This is an easy trap to fall into! When we do this we fall into our own trap: the trap we set for the judged person, we get tangled up in, and we are the one judged by God!
Unfortunately it is too easy to have an attitude of self-righteousness and we all at one time or another fall into this trap!
The trick (understanding) is to recognize that you have fallen into the trap – YOU become aware that you are being judgmental, condemning and self-righteous and YOU make positive steps to change your thinking, your attitude, and your actions. You honestly try to correct your mistakes… this is really all that God asks of us when we make mistakes!
Truth be told, I think that there are many in our world who, when they are praying to God, are in fact really worshipping themselves ... and you do not even have to believe in God in order to do this. We need to learn the honesty and the humility of the tax collector.
We can remain little kings of our own little kingdoms, or little pharisees convinced of our own righteousness worshipping ourselves or we can be honest. It is only when we are honest and humble that we truly find our way to God and truly find our way to one another.
Fr. Michael Cummins
Fr. Michael is a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.
The Alternate Path
This Pharisee did many good things:
he fasted and he prayed
and he gave ten percent of his whole income to the temple.
A generous man, he was not greedy;
a truthful man, he was not dishonest;
faithful to his wife, he was not an adulterer.
and all this by his own admission because if nothing else --
he counted himself more virtuous than everyone else
and certainly a better man than that tax collector over in the corner.
And judging from the tax collector’s simple, one line confession,
O God, be merciful to me, a sinner...
there’s little doubt that he did many bad things --
perhaps things too shameful for him to even mention out loud.
And yet, it’s the tax man, the sinner
who goes home justified -forgiven- in God’s eyes
while the apparently virtuous man goes home
with little more in his pocket than his biased self-approval,
all pumped and propped up by others’ failings.
Often we do not want to admit (to ourselves or to God that we have sinned and that we are sinners!)
It’s so easy to say to ourselves,
“Me? A sinner?
Well, I’m not a murderer or bank robber or drug dealer…”
Or, as the Pharisee put it in the parable,
“Thank God I’m not like all the others - so many sinners!”
And perhaps it’s true that like the Pharisee
we, too, do many good things.
But aren’t we also like the tax collector?
Don’t we also have reason to ask, even to beg for God’s mercy?
The Pharisee? He went home satisfied with himself - and alone.
The tax collector went home with God in his heart,
God who filled him with peace when he bared his soul
and asked for forgiveness.
Today, you and I have “come up to the temple to pray”
and like the Pharisee and the tax collector
we stand before God and one another.
Let none of us point to the failings of others to justify ourselves but let all of us bow and bend low before the Lord, Jesus, who bowed his head on the Cross and invites us to his table to share, to feast on, the gift of his mercy.
Let’s revisit verse 14.
I tell you this man, “rather” was translated incorrectly from the Hebrew to Greek! “rather" in Greek should be translated as “parallel” or as “companion.”
So verse 14 should read:
I tell you that this man, parallel/companion they both went home justified before God!
The Pharisee was giving thanks to God that he was raised as a Jew to know God. He was thankful that he had never suffered the pitfalls and calamities of being a thief and a robber, an evil doer, grateful that he was not an adulterer. He was grateful that he gave a tithe.
Often these words are interpreted as sanctimonious, boastful bragging, self-centered, and arrogant. But when we give this scripture a closer look, the Pharisee was just being grateful for his blessings… as we should too.