30th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
This Sunday’s Gospel contrasts two different religious attitudes. First, the self-righteous Pharisee. Here is a man who seems to impeccably follow the law. In some terms, he is the model citizen! Honest, fiscally generous, and faithful to his marriage vows. But something else lurks in his heart: pride. “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity…or even like this tax collector.” For the Pharisee, no fault can be admitted. The only way to stay on top is to preserve one’s image — even to God, it seems! — and point out the flaws of others from the pedestal.
In the back of the temple, hidden and bowed down, is the tax collector. “O God, by merciful to me a sinner.” This man’s prayer is one of supplication and petition. He isn’t afraid to express his sinfulness and misery. This, Jesus says, is the one who “went home justified.” How many times have we heard the mission of Jesus to seek and save the lost? Jesus is the one who dines with sinners and invites every heart to repentance. But how can we return to him if we don’t know we’ve left? How can we receive God’s grace when we’re adamant we don’t need it?
We all have within us both the Pharisee and the tax collector. We want to be sure of ourselves and to be admired in the eyes of others. Yet we also know that we are not always what we wish to present to others. We can be preoccupied with our self-image and feel anxious about our flaws being exposed. Because we do have flaws, after all. We are the sinner in need of mercy. This Sunday, will we humble ourselves enough to ask for it?