When we go to the doctor, we present our problems before them, it makes no sense to tell the doctor about another person’s illness. If we do that, we would go home just as sick as we were before. That’s what happens in the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector, both go to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee, instead of presenting himself humbly before God, asking for God’s help and grace, lists the faults of the other and in some way even despises him and considers the other person unworthy of being in the presence of God, he in fact thanks God saying: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector.” Jesus says that the Pharisee did not go home justified after his prayer in the temple. On the other hand, the tax collector goes to the temple with the right attitude, his body language displays his repentance, his prayer is sincere, unlike the Pharisee, he did not try to conceal who he really was, he had no illusions about himself or his relationship with God. He was aware that by his actions he had failed to please God. He came to God as he was. Therefore, God met him where he was and lifted him up and he went home justified, he went home at peace with God. Throughout Scripture we see God coming to those who know their need of God. The Lord is telling us through this parable that we have nothing to fear in approaching him just as we are. Let us humbly admit our nothingness before God and our dependence on God. Humility is the recognition of the truth of who we are in relation to God. It is the ability to see clearly that God is our creator and the source of all life and goodness. Without him, we are nothing and have nothing. Humble repentance before God opens us to God’s grace. It is such humble repentance that also gives us the grace to receive the Lord’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. For the same reason we begin every mass asking God to forgive us and again before receiving Holy Communion we say, “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” The Lord is waiting to fill us with his grace, forgiveness and love, if only we come before him in humble repentance saying like the tax collector, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Let us ask the Lord for the humility to see ourselves as we truly are — and the grace to see the Lord as he truly is. For our God is a merciful and compassionate God. The parable is not about you and me, it’s about the nature of God and his unlimited love. He has more than enough for all who ask. The Pharisee didn’t ask. The tax collector was so broken, that all he could do was to humbly ask. Is there hope for the tax collector? O, yes! Next Sunday we hear of a tax collector named Zacchaeus and how he was redeemed. Is there hope for the Pharisee? Of course, there is. The apostle Paul was a Pharisee, after his conversion he preached often of his regret of how his years of self-sufficiency had gotten in the way of his acceptance of God’s grace. Is there hope for us too? Well of course there is! God gives us the same love he gives the sinner and the saint. He knows we’re a blend of both. Here’s the good news: God’s love is not a limited resource it’s our sense of self-sufficiency, that gets in the way of it reaching us. It’s when we are broken, empty vessels that we’re likely to experience God’s love and forgiveness the most.
Fr George Carlos