In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector found in Luke’s gospel (18:9-14) Jesus tells the story of two men who go to the temple to pray. One is a Pharisee and one is a tax collector. One has devoted his life to sanctity and one is earning a living extorting money out his fellow Jews on behalf of the Roman occupiers. Jesus recounts, “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. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”
“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.’ And then Jesus reflects, “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.”
Each man came to the Temple, “just as they were”, to paraphrase the hymn. The Pharisee came confident that he had done all that God required of him. He asked for no forgiveness apparently believing none was needed. He had done what he believed was his duty.
On the other hand, the tax collector came with a deep sense of his own inadequacy and his desperate need for God’s mercy.
In this last week of Lent, before the events of Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Good Friday, now is a good time to be sure that self-justification, pride, and the condemnation of others makes no home in us.
The Jesus Prayer, is a wonderful antidote to self-absorption. "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
In the midst of these extraordinarily trying times, we must look for chances to put the needs of others before our own, and to live for others and not simply for ourselves. And when we fail at the tasks at hand, we must confess that we have failed and fallen short with no excuses, no passing of the buck, and no judgment of anyone else for any reason.
The tax collector knows the those which he ought to have done and those things which he ought not to have done and that there is no health in him, as the
Book of Common Prayer
puts it. He knows that only God’s goodness and mercy can save him.
In this last week of Lent, we take special time to prepare ourselves so that we might walk with our Lord along the way to his mighty works and saving love.
Fr. Andrew +