The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
Saturday, March 21, 2020
3rd Week of Lent
1st Reading: Hos 6:1–6
Gospel: Lk 18:9–14
Jesus told another parable to some persons fully convinced of their own righteousness, who looked down on others, “Two men went up to the Temple to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and said: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people, grasping, crooked, adulterous, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give the tenth of all my income to the Temple.’
“In the meantime the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying: ‘O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’
“I tell you, when this man went down to his house, he had been set right with God, but not the other. For whoever makes himself out to be great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be raised.”
(Daily Gospel in the Assimilated Life Experience)
The beating of breast of the tax collector in today’s Gospel passage takes us to the Calvary scene where, after Jesus gave up his spirit, people went home beating their breasts (Luke 23:48).
It is in this context that we take the tax collector’s act as sign of repentance. Meanwhile the Pharisee was proudly enumerating his good works. He was justified until he elevated himself above the tax collector. By lumping the tax collector with the crooked and the adulterous, he descended to the level of a charlatan usurping God’s sole power to judge humanity. This stripped his good works of merits. To God they appeared nothing but fruits of a poisonous tree.
Justification is God’s prerogative and cannot be arrogated by man to himself and on himself. The contrary would put justification to the sole discretion of human beings. The Pharisee shamelessly justified himself before God on the strength of his good works. “Human beings,” wrote Laurens Van Der Post, “are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right” (From ‘The Lost World of the Kalahari’).
By assuming the power to justify he declared God irrelevant to his life. What did he need God’s mercy for? We too may have done many good works. But in this sinful world it is impossible for one to outnumber his frequency of sinning with the frequency of his charitable acts. Even a just man falls seven times a day (Prov. 24:16). While good works are necessary in order to substantiate our faith, there is no vested right over heaven in the doing of good works. The better option is to do good works and offer them before God while striking one’s breast. – (Atty.) Rev. Fr. Dan Domingo P. delos Angeles, Jr., JD, DM, MMExM, MAPM.
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