30th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS PHARISEE AND THE HUMBLE TAX COLLECTORLk 18:9-14
The story of the Pharisee and the tax collector was actually meant for people “who are convinced of their righteousness.” However, it is also about us because of our tendency to brag our achievements, other than the recognition of our own limitations.
First, let us reflect on the Pharisee who is characterized as a righteous man. At first look, the Pharisee is worth appreciating because of his being responsible and respectable. He was a good person because he kept the rules on fasting, almsgiving and prayer. This is one of our ideals in life. We are called to be faithful to our Christian duties. We need to practice these things so as to live a virtuous life. But what is wrong with being righteous? Let us take note that what God expects of us is the right motive of our piety and an honest spirituality. We don’t pray with the motive to simply please God or to advance against others. Our purpose of prayer or developing spirituality is not so much to show that we are far better than others. This is the mistake of the Pharisee. He compares himself with the tax collector, and he judges himself to be better than him. Well, his judgment of himself may be true by man’s standards, but he should have left it to God. Thus, we need to cleanse ourselves from this tendency. We see in the Pharisee the need to be responsible in our Christian duties.
Second, let us reflect on the tax collector. At first look, he cannot be our model in life because of his association with sin or his being sinful. In life, we don’t idolize people who are considered as sinners, as public sinners. There are people, mostly celebrities, whom we idolize. As idols, they are our role models. They are sin-free or without blemish, and we want them to remain as such. The moment these idols of ours fall, that marks the end of our association with them. But why is this tax collector being praised despite his sinfulness? The upside of this man is his ability to acknowledge, and accept his sinfulness with great humility. He simply talks about himself; his concern was his own self. He simply knows himself as a sinner who needs the redemption and mercy of God. So, instead of looking up, he looks down with shame. He felt the remorse and guilt. Unlike the Pharisee, he has the humility in accepting his sinfulness and he asks God for mercy. This is the essence of prayer. If we want our prayers to be heard by God, we need to have the attitude of the tax collector. God wants us to be sincere, honest, and humble before him. We humble ourselves with God when we pray.
In sum, we need some of the qualities of the two persons. On the one hand, the ability of the Pharisee to fulfill his obligation is something we need too. As Christians, we have some duties and obligations to accomplish. But let us prevent ourselves from being self-righteous. On the other hand, the capacity of the tax collector to repent is also an important thing we need. In our world today, sin is becoming more relativized. People can easily rationalize when they sin. They can even be proud in the midst of sinning. But, like the tax collector, we need to bow humbly before God, repent and ask him mercy and forgiveness.
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