In Luke’s gospel Jesus often sides with those so let down by life that they hardly dream of anything better– tax collectors, widows, sinners like the prodigal son. Jesus was criticized frequently by others for associating with people like that, so he must have done it often enough.
The tax collector in the parable we read today (Luke 18, 9-14), praying in the back of the temple, is an example. Luke recalls earlier in his gospel that Jesus sat down at table with Matthew and some of his tax collector friends in Capernaum. Was Jesus telling their story in this parable?
Staying at a distance, eyes down, the tax collector says only a few words:“O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
The Pharisee’s prayer is so different, so full of himself; he seems to ask only for applause and approval. The tax collector asks only for mercy.
His prayer is heard so shouldn’t we make it our own? Tax-collectors, widows and sinners stand closest to where all humanity stands. We all need God’s mercy. We come to God empty-handed.
“O God come to my assistance. O Lord make haste to help me.”
“I wish that you to remain in your horrible nothingness, knowing that you have nothing, can do nothing and know nothing. God doesn’t do anything for those who wish to be something; but one who is aware of his nothingness in truth, is ready. ‘If anyone thinks himself to be something, he deceives himself,’ said the Apostle, whose name I bear unworthily. (St. Paul of the Cross, Letter 1033)
“O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”