In today’s gospel, the Pharisee who went to the Synagogue to pray, said: “I thank you (God) that I am not like the rest of humanity, greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or like the tax collector.” Dearest sisters and brothers, in these few words, we see the worst of our human attitude—a tendency to judge oneself as being better than others. A heart that sees oneself as the best while it sees others as the worst.
In this one single phrase, we see human pride, jealousy, scorn for fellow human beings and ingratitude to God all combined. That was why Jesus remarked that the Pharisee spoke to himself rather than to God. In the first reading, Sirach warns us against the attitude of pride in our prayer, reminding us “the prayer of the lowly pierces the cloud”. The Tax Collector showed that in these simple words: “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
A look at the Pharisee’s actions highlights one major problem that we have today. As someone rightly remarked, “the Pharisee set up his own standards of life and conducted and judged himself accordingly”. How often we do that today? While the Lord and His Church have given us moral standards to follow, many times we try to lower the standard to give ourselves a pass for doing so little.
Sometime we are so concerned only with the external requirements of the law without adequate spiritual disposition of the heart that loves God and neighbor. The Lord in this parable teaches us that the standard is himself and not our own individual standard. We are not self-sufficient, only God is! It is the standard to love our neighbor which the Pharisee failed to do. It is the standard not to forget to be merciful in our judgment of others as we do not know what their struggles are. It is the standard of humility in our relationship with God, our neighbor and ourselves.
Humility is being truthful to ourselves knowing that before God we are dust and sinners. Humility as someone remarked “is not supposed to destroy our self-esteem but to purify it”. The problem of the Pharisee does not lie in the acknowledgement of his good works but in attributing the success to himself and not to God. May we always be humble enough to remember that every good work of ours is due to God’s grace!