In today’s Gospel text, we read about two persons praying at the synagogue – one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. We see their different attitudes in prayer – the Pharisee singing praises of himself and the tax collector who doesn’t dare look up to God as he humbles himself before God.

Remember that Pharisees were members of a sect of Judaism active in Jesus’ time. They taught an oral interpretation of the Law of Moses as the basis for Jewish piety. Two hundred years before Jesus came, over six thousand Pharisees died in the persecution of their religion and they laid down their lives nobly. Nobody believed with a firmer foundation of faith through the darkest of times than the Pharisees.

Now we look at the tax collectors. They were also Jews whom the Romans farmed out tax collection to. Some were very vicious and not welcomed by the Jewish people. If the people refused to pay the extra taxes, the tax collectors would report it to the Roman army who would force it out of them brutally.

Now these are the two people that Jesus uses as an example. It’s not just one class against another class. The Pharisees were believers in the Word. They would follow strictly everything that was written in the Word. They followed all the commandments. The Pharisee was a greater worshipper, he spent more time in the temple, he prayed more. He fasted twice a week; the Jewish people in those days only fasted once a year. But the trouble with him was he compared himself to the poor tax collector and when he said, “I am not like one of these,” he lost his credibility in the eyes of Jesus. Who are we and how dare we judge other people?

Somehow we feel that we come and we worship and we don’t do terrible things, we are better than other people. Now, this is a big mistake, because everyone born in the world is a child of God, an heir of heaven and must be respected, not for what he does but because he is a child of God. Jesus didn’t come to save the Pharisees; he came to save all who would reach out and be saved.

We do not come to Church to be better than others. That would make us exactly like the Pharisee in today’s Gospel. Jesus was angry because the Pharisee who knows God and loves God and serves, God feels that salvation is only for himself. The tax collector deeply and sincerely knows that he has betrayed his people. He knows that he cheated and he said, “Have mercy on me. I am a sinner.” Every human being has that dignity because it comes from God. It doesn’t come from our talents. Therefore, we should be asking the Lord to have mercy on us, to change our lives, to make us fully alive in Him so that others can see the presence of God active in our world. Jesus teaches his disciples to pray in humility before God which is similar to the tax collector.

The parable reminds us that when we pray, we must remember our need for God in our lives. If we are too full of ourselves, there is too little room for God’s grace to work in us.

As in Ps 34:18, when the just cry out, the Lord hears and rescues them from all distress. God sees the heart – for God prefers a broken spirit as a sacrifice rather than an actual burnt sacrifice which He will not accept. Before we can even ask Him for anything, He knows what is on our mind (Ps 139:4)

How do we pray? Are we like the tax collector when we pray with a humble and contrite heart or with an arrogant attitude like the Pharisee? Who is God to us? Speak O Lord, your servant is listening!

With Praise & Thanks,

Geraldine and Jackie