Today’s reading: Luke 18:1-17
Today we read one of the most beautiful passages in all of scripture. In it, Jesus compares the prayers of what from outward appearances appears to be a very holy man (a Pharisee) v. a very sinful man (a tax collector).
The Pharisee offers what at first glance, appears to be a very mindful prayer:
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.’ Luke 18:11-12
The Pharisee thanks God for his blessings. The Pharisee has apparently endeavored not to be “greedy, dishonest, or adulterous” and presumably had met with some modicum of success and therefore thank God for that. The Pharisee is doing penance in that he “fasts twice a week” and he is charitable in that he pays tithes. Yet the Pharisee does not go home justified. Why? In part, it is because his prayer, although ostensibly a prayer on thanks is not truly humble but more so because of that one phrase that he added in. When the Pharisee said that he was thankful that he was not, “like this tax collector”. We are told at the beginning of the chapter that the story is about, “…those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.” (Luke 18:9).
However, if we look at the tax collector we see that he was not someone to be despised but admired. In one of the most moving portraits of scripture, we see that this tax collector is so humble that he is not even willing to raise his eyes to heaven.
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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted. Luke 18:13-14
The words uttered by the tax collector, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner’ are some of the most important in scripture. We can and should pray them to the Lord multiple times a day.
Tomorrow: Luke 18:18-43