The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
March 21, 2020 Saturday of the Third Week of Lent
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 will be exalted.”
Opening Prayer: Good and gracious Father, “be merciful to me a sinner” and help me to approach you with the humility of the tax collector in this time of prayer.
1. Pharisee or Tax Collector?:The Pharisee sees only the good he does. Do we see ourselves as “good”? How diligently do we work to rid ourselves of our pet sins? How carefully do we examine our day for evidence of “little” venial sins? How easily do we fall into habits of “seemingly harmless” white lies, exaggerations, idle chatter, or gossip? Every venial sin has consequences: “Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul's progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment. Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin” (CCC 1863). Many of the saints and popes availed themselves of weekly Confession. Do we feel the weight of sin drawing us to this sacrament? The more sensitive we are to our sinfulness, the more readily we run to the confessional.
2. He Spoke This Prayer to Himself: Humanly speaking, this Pharisee had “his” place in the temple; but spiritually he didn’t realize where he was or who he was. He prayed to himself. He compared himself to others. He thought he knew himself well, but clearly he did not. It can be easy to allow our routine prayer time to turn into a monologue or one long distraction. In those moments we, too, are praying to ourselves. Let’s regroup and approach our time of prayer with a renewed sincerity and an open heart. Jesus will acknowledge our effort and bless us, drawing us ever closer, inviting us to healing and restoration.
3. Beat His Breast and Prayed: The tax collector stood at a distance proclaiming his guilt and beating his breast in contrition. Fortunately, we are not asked to publicly express our guilt and sorrow, except by our presence in the line for Confession. Nor are we expected to keep our distance from Christ. But we are encouraged to be sorry for our sins. “Contrition is sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again. When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called "perfect" (contrition of charity)... The contrition called "imperfect" is also a gift of God, a prompting of the Holy Spirit. It is born of the consideration of sin's ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner (contrition of fear)” (CCC 1451-1453). Jesus offers us intimate access to his sacred heart through Confession and gives us the grace to be sorry for our sins.
Conversing with Christ: Christ Jesus, I love you and strive to know and carry out your will, but because I am a sinner I fall short each day. By your grace, I am able to look with clarity at my life and my choices, and in your mercy, I am given another chance to try again. Success is not about my accomplishments but about how well I love.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace, I resolve to practice a balanced look at my day by spending five to ten minutes in the evening reflecting on the ways I cooperated with God’s grace and the ways I failed to cooperate with his grace. From there I will resolve to try again tomorrow.