(LK 18. 9 – 14).
Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector to those who trust in their own goodness and despise others.
The Pharisee, who was considered as an elite religious among the Jews, stood with his hands and eyes raised up towards heaven – the usual posture in prayer. He thanks God that he is not like other men and looks to others rather than to God, because his point of comparison is none but himself. He considers himself as a model of religion. It Is just this that makes him intolerant towards others, who have done wrong, by extortion, injustice, adultery. In his own eyes, he is not like the Tax Collector. Then the Pharisee lists the good that he does: he fasts twice a week (though the Law required fasting only once a year on the Day of Atonement (he voluntary fasted twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays), perhaps as an atonement for others´ sins. He also gives tithes of all that he purchased, which involved self-denial. He believes that religion is limited to a collection of rites and common practices such as fasting and tithes and this he uses to justify his lack of charity. The Pharisee portrayed by Jesus, in his egocentric narcissism, represents those who live their faith merely as the fulfilling of canonical laws, thinking that these are models to imitate.
The Tax Collector on the contrary, knows he is a sinner, admits his guilt, and is conscious of the great distance that separates him from God. And so, for him, the only attitude possible is that of humble contrition: “God be merciful to me a sinner”. He doesn´t look at anyone except himself and God. He knows that God loves him as he is, because, “the Lord is a judge who is no respecter of persons” (as the today´s text from the book of Ecclesiasticus reminds us). God´s judgement is not to condemn but to be merciful. The Tax Collector personifies all those who are poor in spirit and who present themselves before God with empty hands, lacking love from others, but humble and generous of heart themselves. They recognise their littleness but they know the greatness of God.
We could ask ourselves “Who am I?” Am I like this Pharisee, judging myself better than others, or like the Tax Collector who knows his need of God´s mercy and compassion? Am I Like this Pharisee who did all that a good Pharisee should do, adoring God in all the religious and dogmatic formulas, social, and political, of his time, living my faith merely to fulfil those legal obligations and religious laws of the Church?
To answer this important question, it would be a great help for each one of us, to reread Pope Francis´ Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and be Glad), where, in Chapter Three, he reflects on the Beatitudes in St. Matthew´s Gospel. They are a “portrait” of Jesus Himself, who said, “Learn of me for I am meek and gentle and humble of heart.” If we are constantly upset and impatient with others, we will end up drained and weary. But if we regard the faults and limitations of others with tenderness and meekness, without an air of superiority, we can actually help them rather than wasting our energy on useless complaining. Am I humble, praising others rather than boasting about myself, disagreeing gently, upholding justice, at peace with all, rejoicing in the good of others, putting my charismas/gifts at the service of others; patient, kind, well mannered, understanding of others? Do I strive to be an artisan of peace, because building peace is a craft that demands sincerity, creativity, sensitivity and skill?
Pope Francis ends his reflections by wishing that we be crowned by Mary, because she lived the Beatitudes of Jesus as none other. She is that woman who rejoiced in the presence of God, who treasured everything in her heart, and who let herself be pierced by the sword. Mary is the saint among the saints, blessed above all others. She teaches us the way of holiness and she walks ever at our side. She does not let us remain fallen and at times she takes us into her arms without judging us. Our converse with her comforts, frees and sanctifies us. Mary our Mother does not need a flood of words. She does not need us to tell her what is happening in our lives. All we need do is whisper time and time again: “Hail Mary”. In this month of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fátima, as we repeat the names of Jesus and Mary in the Rosary each day, we can be assured of their love and care for each person in the world and for the whole of creation.
Sr. Aedris Coates OP