The Pharisee —
‘O Godde, 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.’
The tax collector —
‘O Godde, be merciful to me a sinner.’
Pride always longs to be unusual. Humility not so. Humility finds all its peace in hope, knowing that Christ must come again to elevate and transfigure ordinary things and fill them with His glory. Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island
seen At the Edge of the Enclosure
One of the recurring themes in [Rooted in Love] is a call to honesty: Honesty with oneself, honesty with God, honesty with others. … As I grappled with some of the challenges I faced and slowly found my way through, I discovered that the turning point on each issue was honesty: a willingness to face my real desire; my brokenness; my giftedness; my anger; my grief – in the presence of God. …
Really looking at oneself with honesty is never easy. It requires that we both take credit for the good and responsibility for the not so good. All of us are mixed bag of giftedness and brokenness.
Margaret Blackie. (747-750). Kindle version.
I chose the above illustration for reasons that some of you will have guessed right away: a typical ‘guys’ story has become a women’s story. I would have loved to find one with two white women. I didn’t. I realize, however, that these roles could be filled by any color, race, nationality, or denomination.
Today’s gospel is about pride vs. humility, conceit vs. honesty. Which sort of people Godde likes and welcomes. How lovely humble people are. How obnoxious boastful people sound.
The fear this parable always gives me is that of false humility. Pretending that I more humble than I truly am. I am attracted these days by the horrid person in the parable. We are told so often that we must be the ‘good one’; the fear of not being good enough hides the truth this parable may mirror back to me.
In which way am I like the Pharisee? I recognize so many of us in the social media. I point out those people who do not think like me; I laugh at them; I love the comedians who know so well how to ridicule them.
Will the real me stand up? Am I not simply sitting somewhere between the Pharisee’s chair and the Publican’s?
I like Mags Blackie’s recommendation to be honest with Godde in prayer. It is the only way to be really. This means that sometimes I can only stand in front of Her as the Pharisee that I am. This is where I start from. Here I am Godde, once again so pleased with myself, so judgmental. Oh, Sweet Godde, I need the grace of kindness, of tolerance, of understanding…
Yes, it is also true that sometimes I go to Godde on my knees, beating my chest for errors I have committed. While I am sure that Godde loves me and forgives me, it takes me much longer to love and forgive myself…
This Gospel needs to come back again and again, because I need to wonder once again which of the two is more like me. It has me stop however briefly for an examination of my behavior, tendencies, and other disordered affections.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if every time this Gospel is read a pillar of the parish were to play the Pharisee and a parishioner never even noticed said the lines of the publican? Isn’t this what it is about? My arriving at my church so sure of myself, of my own standing, having received from life a cornucopia of gifts of all sorts while the refugee two seats down from me cannot be sure of anything. How her prayers are heard by the One who loves us, while my mind drifts in and out of what I might do after mass…
At the end of this time of prayer, I like most of all standing in front of Jesus, heart and mind wide open for him to see who I truly am. He sees through me and understands me better than I ever will. This moment of transparency fills me with peace somehow. I let go of all pretense. Whoever I am, whatever I am, Jesus loves me and maybe, just maybe, He can change in me whatever needs to be changed so that I can grow closer to him each day a bit more.
Picture: The parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector, source here