July 28, 1996
Brother John Raymond
The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is one of three
principal parables on prayer according to the Catechism. (Lk.
18:9-14) Recall that the Pharisee, standing in the temple, prayed,
thanking God that he was not a sinner like everyone else, especially
the tax collector. He then recounted to God all his good works:
fasting twice a week and giving tithes on all he possessed. The tax
collector standing some distance away would not lift his eyes. He
struck his breast saying, "O God, be merciful to me a sinner." Jesus
said that the tax collector went home justified, but not the
Pharisee. Then Jesus concluded by saying that he who exalts himself
will be humbled but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.
The Catechism comments that this parable "concerns the humility
of the heart that prays." (#2613) The Church continues to make the
prayer of the tax collector its own__"Lord, have mercy on us."
Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P. in his commentary on the Gospel of St.
Luke tells us this parable continues the theme, found in St. Luke,
of salvation to the lowly and to the outcast. The proud Jews of the
Old Covenant, typified by the self-righteous Pharisee, would be
rejected. The New Covenant people would consist of Gentiles and
sinners. The Pharisee went beyond the requirements of the Law and
let God know it. The Pharisee felt that God needed him. The tax
collector, on the other hand, felt the need for God, for His mercy.
St. Bede, a Doctor of the Church, wrote four ways that the pride
of arrogant men is disclosed. 1. When they think the good within
themselves comes from themselves. 2. When they believe the good
within them comes from God, but consider that it is owed them
because of their merits. 3. When they boast of that which they don't
have. 4. When, despising others, they desire to appear as having in
a unique way whatever it is they may have. The Pharisee seems to
have fallen into 3 and 4.
Now we might be tempted to say to ourselves, after hearing this
parable, "I'm sure glad I'm not like that Pharisee," echoing in
ourselves the very sentiments of the Pharisee! We would be,
according to St. Bede, dwelling on our own virtue and upon the sins
of those who we consider worse than ourselves. A priest once gave a
good homily concerning charity toward others. After Mass a woman
thanked him for his homily adding, "Too bad so-and-so wasn't here to
St. Bede tells us we would do better to imitate the tax
collector. We need to keep before our eyes our own failures in God's
service and at the same time the virtues of those who are better
than us. We will then be humbled unto glory rather then exalted unto
ruin. According to this Saint we will be glorified in the measure
that we bow down in supplication within ourselves, praying, "O
Almighty God, have mercy on me Thy suppliant: for I am not as Thy
innumerable servants, sublime in their contempt of the world,
admirable in virtue, angelic in the glory of their chastity, as are
also many of these who, after public offences, merited by their
repentance to come to love Thee! And also, if I, by the gift of Thy
grace, have done anything of good, in what measure I have done it I
know not; or what penalty may be weighed by Thee in the scales
against it, I know not!" (PL 92, col. 551. Expositio in Lucae Evang.
Humility is nothing more than the simple truth about ourselves as
we stand before God. Mother Teresa of Calcutta comments that we are
in trouble when we forget we are sinners. Even the sinless Blessed
Virgin Mary returned Elizabeth's compliment by exclaiming, "My soul
proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my
Savior for He has looked with favor on His lowly
servant...the Almighty has done great things for me."
Jesus, though He was God, stooped down to our lowly condition
"and took the form of a slave," according to St. Paul. May Jesus,
meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto His so that we
can pray like the tax collector, "O God, be merciful to me a