Today’s parable highlights the tension between self-righteousness and being righteous in the sight of God. The danger of all religious practices is that they can become an end in themselves. Once this happens, a cycle of self-congratulation sets in, which subtly denies the work of grace.
Jesus’ affirmation of the tax collector’s disposition teaches us much about the interior life. The weakness of the Pharisee is his self- deception. The strength of the tax collector is his self-knowledge. The sin of the Pharisee is pride. The virtue of the tax collector is humility. Self-knowledge is a gift from God. It protects us from a false view of ourselves.
Humbly and realistically, we need to admit that we are poor creatures, tempted to wrongdoing, frail and weak, constantly in need of inner strengthening and consolation. This should not depress us. If it offends, it is because we do not appreciate the truth of our condition. The beauty of the tax collector is his humble acceptance of his state before God. A patient who accepts the diagnosis of his doctor becomes pliable to his healing touch. A patient who rejects the diagnosis is harder to heal.
Let us ask God today to help us to understand our need and to grant us
a true knowledge of ourselves. If we can say to God in all sincerity,
“O God, be merciful to me, a sinner”, then we are acknowledging God as
our creator and walking humbly before him.