Jesus then 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.”
Who is right before God? This explanation comes directly from the Lord. The one who recognises God's mercy and the one who is open to receive it. Jesus does not judge this Pharisee, who nevertheless does a lot of good for himself and for others. Yet he is not ready to accept God's mercy, nor the grace that God generously gives him. In truth, we must imitate the good deeds of this Pharisee and avoid his arrogance which leads him to sin. Jesus invites us to imitate the behaviour of a publican, open and welcoming, surrendering before the divine mercy. If we want to be judged as righteous before God, let us learn to be humble, so that God may lift us up. It is in this self-emptying that we allow God to fill us with His grace.
Action of the day: Accept the divine mercy.
“I tell you, the latter went home justified”
Fr. Gavan JENNINGS
Today, Christ presents us with two men who, to a casual observer, might appear almost identical for they are in the same place doing the same thing, as both “went up to the Temple to pray” (Lk 18:10). But beyond appearances, at the deepest level of their personal consciences, both men differ radically: one, the Pharisee, has an easy conscience while the other, the tax collector, is racked by feelings of guilt.
Nowadays we tend to see guilt feelings as close to a psychological aberration: ‘beating oneself up over something’. Nevertheless the ‘guilt-racked’ tax-collector leaves the Temple in the better state for, “the latter went home justified, not the former” (Lk 18:14). “This feeling of guilt”, wrote Benedict XVI when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger ("Conscience and truth"), “disturbs the false calm of conscience and could be called conscience's complaint against my self-satisfied existence. It is as necessary for man as the physical pain which signifies disturbances of normal bodily functioning.”
Jesus doesn’t lead us to believe that the Pharisee is not telling the truth when he says that he is not “greedy, dishonest, adulterous” (Lk 18:11) and that he fasts and gives money to the Temple, nor that the tax-collector is delusional in thinking himself a sinner. This is not the question. Rather it is that “the Pharisee no longer knows that he too has guilt. He has a completely clear conscience. But this silence of conscience makes him impenetrable to God and men, while the cry of conscience which plagues the tax collector makes him capable of truth and love. Jesus can move sinners” (Benedict XVI).