Saturday, 3rd Week of Lent
The Pharisee, in today’s parable, starts off his prayer by saying that he is “not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous.” This is totally different from the image of the tax collector: standing off at a distance, the tax collector “would not even raise his eyes to heaven.” He cannot say anything but his sinfulness: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
Seeing into their hearts, Jesus praises the tax collector and castigates the self-righteous Pharisee. The tax collector who admits his sinfulness is close to the heart of Jesus. For the heart of God is melted by the confession of our sinfulness and by the admission of our need for a savior.
A commentary on today’s gospel has this reflection: “Beating our breasts in recognition that we are filthy sinners prepares us for prayer and communion with the Almighty.” We might succeed in avoiding to commit grave sins, we might be able to follow God’s commands, but this is not enough to be justified or saved. We need a humble heart that recognizes our sinfulness: our faults and failures, our sins of commission and omission. Humble hearts see clearly and accept that without God’s special grace we would never be able to resist sin now or in the future.
If we put ourselves in the Pharisee’s place, we would constantly be reminding God how hard we have worked to please him, and we would be expecting him to reward us for our efforts. We might be approaching God telling him of the ‘good things’ we do – how long we pray, how often we go to Mass, how much we give to charities, how much we fast, etc.
We must put ourselves in the tax collector’s place: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” We must realize that we cannot merit salvation on our own. We are saved, by God’s grace through the merits of Jesus. As Leo Zanchettin, in his commentary on the Gospel of Luke, says, “Our foundation would be sure because Jesus paid the price for our sin, and we would not feel as if we had to make deals with God.” Because we were separated from God by sin and unable to save ourselves, God sent his only Son to pay our penalty by dying on the cross for us.
Let us imitate the tax collector and continue to make God’s mercy and love the foundation of our lives.