THE RIGHTEOUS POSTURE
According to Luke, Jesus addresses the parable of the Pharisee and the publican to those who are presumptuously convinced of their own righteousness before God and despise everyone else. The two main characters going up go up to the temple to pray are representatives of two opposite and irreconcilable religious attitudes. But what is the righteous and rightt posture before God? This is the fundamental question.
The Pharisee is a scrupulous observer of the law and a faithful practitioner of his religion. He feels secure in the temple. He stands and raises his head as he prays. His prayer is beautiful: a prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God. But he is not thankful for God’s greatness, goodness or mercy, but rather for how good and how great he himself is.
One immediately sees that there is something wrong with this prayer. Instead of praying, this man contemplates himself. He recounts to himself his own meritorious life story. He needs to feel that he complies with God’s rules and to show that he is better than everyone else.
This man does not know what prayer is. He neither recognizes the mysterious greatness of God nor confesses his own littleness. To seek God in order to enumerate our good works before God and put everyone else down is proper of fools. Hiding behind his apparent piety is an “atheistic” prayer. This man does not need God. He asks nothing from God. He is self-sufficient.
The publican’s prayer is very different. He knows that his presence in the temple is a sorry sight for everyone. His occupation as a tax collector taxes is hated and despised. He does not make excuses. He acknowledges he is a sinner. His beating of the breast and the few words he whispers say it all: O God, be merciful to me a sinner.
This man knows that he cannot boast. He has nothing to offer God, but yes, has much to receive from him such as forgiveness and mercy. There is authenticity in his prayer. This man is a sinner, but is on his way to the truth.
The Pharisee has not found God. In contrast, this tax collector quickly finds the right stance before God, namely, the attitude of one who has nothing and needs everything. He does not even pause for a few moments to confess his faults in detail. He admits he is a sinner. His prayer wells up from such awareness of sinfulness: Be merciful to me a sinner.
Two people go up to the temple to pray, but each one of them carries in his heart his image of God and his way of relating to him. The Pharisee is entangled in a legalistic religion: what matters to him is to comply with God’s rules and to be more righteous than anyone else. The tax collector, in contrast, is open to the God of Love whom Jesus preaches: the tax collector has learned to live by forgiveness, without boasting of anything and without condemning anyone.
October 23, 2016
30th Sunday in O.T. (C)
Luke 18, 9-14