Jesus addressed this parable
to those who were convinced of their own righteousness
and despised everyone else.
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity
greedy, dishonest, adulterous or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week,
and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;
for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself shall be exalted.
Saturday, 3rd week of lent
In Luke’s gospel Jesus often takes the side of tax collectors, widows, and sinners like the prodigal son who are so beaten down by their own situation that they can hardly dream of anything better. He is criticized frequently for associating with people like that, so he must have done it often enough.
In the parable, the tax collector who goes into the temple area to pray is one of them. Early in his gospel, Luke recalls that Jesus sat down at table with a number of tax collectors who were Matthew’s friends. Is he typical of them?
Staying at a distance, eyes down, the tax collector only utters a couple of words:
“O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
The Pharisee’s prayer is so different, so full of himself; he seems to ask for applause. The tax collector asks only for mercy.
His prayer was heard, Jesus says, so should we not make it our own? Tax-collectors, widows and sinners are heard because their situation is closest to where all humanity stands. God hears their prayers and calls them into his Kingdom. We all stand in need of God’s mercy.
“O God come to my assistance. O Lord make haste to help me.”