LK 18: 9-14



I was listening to a woman complain about her brother – how this man was hateful, unjust, and vengeful. This woman also spoke about her husband – how he was unfaithful, irresponsible, an lazy. Surprisingly, the woman thought of herself as way above the two men he described – that she was generous, kind, and good to all. I thought to myself: I must have just spoken to a saint!


The gospel today shows us what happens when we see the wretchedness of others and overlook our own faults and failings. We become haughty or proud and we start to belittle others. Worse, we even lie to God because we think that God does not know what is happening in our hearts. The praying Pharisee was enjoying his embellished image of himself, thinking that God will be impressed with him. And that was farthest from the truth.


The gospel also shows what happens when we see our own misery. To be aware of it means that we become realistic enough to know that in many ways we fall short of perfection. We may not be evil but we are not immune to weaknesses and frailties all people have. Understanding our own limitations, we do not wallow in self-pity or isolation but we begin to open up to the only One who can heal our sinfulness and correct our mistakes. Knowing and accepting our misery brings us to the virtue of humility.


The Lord Jesus said that the humble tax collector gained the favor of God. The tax collector was not an outstanding member of the society in Jesus’ time. He was a collaborator with the occupying Roman forces. He not only collected taxes, but also extorted money from people. He enriched, not only the coffers of the state, but his own pocket as well. A tax collector has the reputation of being a traitor, a thief, a fraud.


Yet in the silence of prayer, the tax collector was truly touched by grace. His heart was open to the love of God knocking on its doors and he allowed the light to banish the traces of his sin away and to welcome the sunshine of God once again. He knew he could fool people. He could even fool himself. But he was aware that he could never fool God. There is nothing to be gained by hiding the truth from the all-knowing and all-merciful eyes of God.


All of us are tempted, time and again, to focus on the faults of others while trying to conceal our own bad actions and thoughts. It is troubling to realize that what negative things we find in others we can also find in our own hearts. Let us ask for the courage to accept our misery and receive God’s mercy.