|The tax collector, not the Pharisee, went home justified.|
Pride and self-righteousness are quite ugly. This Gospel contrasts the Pharisee and his self-righteousness with the humility of the tax collector. The Pharisee looks righteous on the outside and is even proud enough to speak about how good he is in his prayer to God when he says that he is grateful he is not like the rest of humanity. That poor Pharisee. Little does he know that he is quite blind to the truth.
The tax collector, however, is truthful, humble and sincere. He cried out, “Oh God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus makes it clear that the tax collector, with this humble prayer, went home justified but the Pharisee did not.
When we witness the sincerity and humility of another it touches us. It’s an inspiring sight to see. It’s hard to criticize anyone who expresses their sinfulness and asks for forgiveness. Humility of this sort can win over even the most hardened of hearts.
So what about you? Is this parable addressed to you? Do you carry the heavy burden of self-righteousness? All of us do at least to some extent. It’s hard to sincerely arrive at the level of humility that this tax collector had. And it’s so very easy to fall into the trap of justifying our own sin and, as a result, becoming defensive and self-absorbed. But this is all pride. Pride disappears when we do two things well.
First, we have to understand God’s mercy. Understanding the mercy of God frees us to take our eyes off ourselves and set aside self-righteousness and self-justification. It frees us from being defensive and enables us to see ourselves in the light of the truth. Why? Because when we recognize God’s mercy for what it is, we also realize that even our sins cannot keep us from God. In fact, the greater the sinner, the more that sinner is deserving of God’s mercy! So understanding God’s mercy actually enables us to acknowledge our sin.
Acknowledging our sin is the second important step we must take if we want our pride to disappear. We have to know that it’s OK to admit our sin. No, we do not have to stand on the street corner and tell everyone about the details of our sin. But we have to acknowledge it to ourselves and to God, especially in the confessional. And, at times, it will be necessary to acknowledge our sins to others so that we can ask for their forgiveness and mercy. This depth of humility is attractive and easily wins the hearts of others. It inspires and produces the good fruits of peace and joy in our hearts.
So don’t be afraid to follow the example of this tax collector. Try and take his prayer today and say it over and over. Let it become your prayer and you will see the good fruits of this prayer in your life!
Oh God, be merciful to me a sinner. Oh God, be merciful to me a sinner. Oh God, be merciful to me a sinner. Jesus, I trust in You.