Homily for Saturday of the Third Week in Lent
Throughout His preaching and His public ministry, Jesus never missed the opportunity to remind the Scribes and the Pharisees about how they were falling short of being the leaders of the Jewish community. Jesus continues that same message in today’s Gospel. He is calling out the elders of the Jewish faith for how they have become so attentive to their own needs that they are failing to live in the way that God has called them to live.
In this passage from the Gospel of Luke, we have two very different approaches to prayer – two polar opposites really. On the one hand, we have the Pharisee. In his prayer to the Father, we see how he exalts himself. In his arrogance, he makes himself the judge of what is righteous, what is virtuous, what is moral. Notice that Scripture says he “spoke this prayer to himself.” He was not offering prayers of thanksgiving to God; he was praising himself.
On the flip side, we have the tax collector. It is obvious that he knew his place before the Father. He humbly recognized his own faults and sins and asked for God’s mercy. He feels as though he is unworthy of approaching God but also understands how he needs the Lord in his life. And his prayer is simple yet beautifully profound: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” The tax collector knew himself; he recognized his own poverty and his need for God. He understood the need to rely on God for mercy.
Each of us struggles with pride in some way. It is the result of the fall of man, the original grasping at pride. The Pharisee fell into this same trap. He was making himself the center of his universe and prayer, not God. It’s supposed to be a challenge for us. We can ask ourselves: When have we placed ourselves in God’s role, closing our world in on ourselves rather than allowing God to be the Lord of our lives? When we place God in his rightful place, we automatically inhabit our rightful place: as his beloved children who trust in his mercy, like the tax collector. In our smallness, God will exalt us. God can and will do great things in those with a humble soul.
Which one of these two are we? Are we like the Pharisee who exalts himself and thinks that we are so perfect that we should be the standard for morality and faith? Or are we like the tax collector, who recognizes our need for God and humbly approaches Him seeking mercy?