Homily for March 5th, 2016: Luke 18:9-14.
The Pharisees have had such a bad press that we think the first man in this story must be a hypocrite. He was not. He really has done all the things he lists in his prayer. The tax collector, on the other hand, is a public sinner. He collects taxes for the hated Roman government of occupation. Much of the money goes into his own pocket. Unable, like the Pharisee, to point in his prayer to any semblance of a good conduct record, he appeals simply to God=s mercy: AO God, be merciful to me, a sinner.@
Here is what our Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI says about these two men in his book, Jesus of Nazareth [pp. 61f]:
AThe Pharisee can boast considerable virtues; he tells God only about himself, and he thinks that he is praising God in praising himself. The tax collector knows that he has sinned, he knows he cannot boast before God, and he prays in full awareness of his debt to grace. [AGrace@ is the technical term for God=s freely given love, something we can never earn.] ... The real point is ... that there are two ways of relating to God and to oneself. The Pharisee does not really look at God at all, but only at himself; he does not need God, because he does everything right by himself. He has no real relation to God, who is ultimately superfluous B what he does himself is enough.
AThe tax collector, by contrast, sees himself in the light of God. He has looked toward God, and in the process his eyes have been opened to see himself. So he knows that he needs God and that he lives by God=s goodness, which he can not force God to give him and which he cannot procure for himself. He knows that he needs mercy and so he will learn from God=s mercy to become merciful himself, and thereby to become like God. ... He will always need the gift of goodness, or forgiveness, but in receiving it he will always learn to give the gift to others.@
Happy are we if those words describe us: people who know we shall always need the gift of God=s goodness and forgiveness; and if, in receiving these gifts we learn to pass them on to others.