This story is about a self-righteous Pharisee who missed it by a mile and a social outcast who actually got it. Through this reflection, may we get insights so we will not miss the blessing of a real connection with God by # 1...
GOING BEYOND RELIGIOUS PRIDE TO TRUE HUMILITY
The parable took place at Israel's most holy temple. The two visitors are on opposite ends of the social spectrum. The Pharisee belongs to the most honored and revered social group: privileged in status and powerful in authority. The tax collector belongs to the most hated profession possible for an ancient Israelite. They were considered extortioners and traitors.
Extortioners, because they overcharged the people's taxes. Traitors because they do it on behalf the occupying Roman Empire.
The Pharisee's prayer was filled with claims of piousness: fasting twice a week; tithing with no fail. And Jesus implied that he missed the point not because he was doing these things, but because he was doing these things with pride. He was proud of his religious status. He was proud because he was better than others
On the contrary, the tax collector stood at a distance, beating his chest, saying, "God have mercy on me for I am a sinner." Is this saying that when we go to church we should feel down, heavy, broken, and miserable? No, that is not what its saying at all. Spirituality is not self-judgment and self-flagellation, but a humble recognition of God's grace. We don't try to impress God with our good work. We thank God for the grace to do good works
FROM SOCIAL-COMPARISON TO SOUL-SEARCHING
The Pharisee started his prayer with thanksgiving. But it was so arrogant and misconstrued. When we are not careful, here is what happens. We measure ourselves by others shortcoming
We define our identity by comparing how we stack up against another. We unconsciously go down the level of judgment, jadedness, feelings of superiority
The tax collector hitting the bottom low knew that there is no one else to compare himself with;
There is nowhere else to turn to--but to turn inside. And then that deepest soul searching words:
"God have mercy on me. I am a sinner." It was honest. It was raw. It was real.
And it was like a magical portal was opened and healing and mercy was indeed given.
FROM CLUELESSNESS TO SPIRITUAL CONNECTION
It is documented throughout the 4 gospel accounts that they who were considered religiously intelligent are those who were found clueless. And them who were religiously unlearned are the people who got it.
When we think our politics is better, our social status is better, our physical appearance is better; or when we assume we have a better access to heaven because have a better theology, a better economy, a better demeanor, chances are, we maybe the one who are clueless. Paul advises us: "do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think." And verse 14 is probably the point. Because "Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."