BY: Fr. Jude Nnadi.



Readings: Sirach 33:12-14;16-18; 2 Timothy 4: 6-8;16-18; Luke 18: 9-14
“Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity-greedy, dishonest, adulterous-or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. and I pay tithes on my whole income,’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you; the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Lk 18)
Sisters and brothers, authentic prayer transforms, purifies like fire and immerses man in God. But there is also a false prayer, a sign of narrow-mindedness, pride, interior emptiness, and hypocrisy. Prayer can, then, be used almost as a litmus test of the conscience. Jesus in this famous parable wants to demonstrate ideally a lesson on prayer which had been introduced in our last Sunday liturgy. In this picture, as in the one of the widows and the judge, there are two protagonists. On the one hand is the Pharisee, a member of that observant religious community against which Jesus’ arrows are often pointed. Phariseeism was the most “spiritual” and most open and “human” current of Judaism; Jesus, was mostly concerned of the degenerations that can affect even the highest forms of spirituality.
On the other side of the scene, is a tax collector, a Latin term that entered our language especially in connection with the Gospels (from publicanus, “collector of public money”) and used to render the Greek evangelical telònes, from télos, “tax”. A hated figure among the Jews who collaborates with a detested foreign power, the Roman one. The provocation that Jesus throws before his listeners is evident: as an exemplary model he presents an individual considered despicable in the common public opinion (think also of the parable of the Good Samaritan); and as a model to avoid he precisely chooses the representative of one of the most esteemed religious movements.
But the true portrait of the two actors, as has been said, emerges from their prayers. The Pharisee begins with a formally flawless prayer: it contains a list of merits of a correct, just, and respected existence. As is evident, the root of this prayer is in the justice of man. A man who is firmly convinced that the balance of payments with God is in his favor: he pays his tithes even in detail, he does not fast only one day a week, as prescribed by law, but two. In short, he is the true model of all religious observants, a perfect and self-confident man.
Quite different, indeed antithetical, is the pleading prayer of the hated tax collector for the Roman Empire. It contains only a total confession of poverty and sin: “Be merciful to me a sinner”. The root of prayer here is evident: it is no longer the justice of man (the lack of which is recognized) but it is the saving justice of God, Grace. A God who pays in his love, a God who is not a tyrant or greedy creditor but a father who only demands conversion of man. The tax collector is therefore not a model of a religious observant person sure of salvation, but a man of faith who hopes for forgiveness and salvation from God.
The Pharisee, so attached to his works and pride, is rejected by God, despite his protests of “religiosity”; the Publican is, however, “justified” by his faith. The culture nor the self-sufficient formalism is not enough; salvation comes from faith, humble and loving adherence to God’s action. The gift of salvation is far superior to our merit and therefore can never be equated with an obligatory reward for what one has done. Jesus came not to call the righteous but sinners. St. Benedict warns us that “those who are not proud of their exact observance will reach that dwelling but, aware that what is good in them surpasses their ability and is the fruit of divine grace, they magnify the Lord who works in them and say with the Psalmist: Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give the glory.

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