Readings: Hos 6:1-6; Lk 18:9-14
" 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.' " Lk 18:13
Anyone who knows a lick about old western movies could come in at the middle and point out the good guys: the ones with white hats. (In black and white movies, it made it a lot easier to follow who was who in a chase or confrontation.) But what would you think if all the hats were covered in dust, so they all looked gray?
This removal of a standard, is, in effect, what Jesus does in His parable about a Pharisee (the religious "good guy," whose very title means "set apart") and the tax collector (a public sinner, taking money from the poor and giving it to the ruling Romans).
Everything in the Pharisee's prayer would have been true — he fasted and tithed. He's a regular at the temple ("he took up his position"). Weren't these things he was supposed to do? Why was the tax collector justified instead of him? The tax collector makes no promise to change or even make reparations. But his stance from far off shows he is humble. All he does is ask for God's mercy!
Jesus' audience is apparently used to the standard of justification by comparison with others who are more or less ardent in observing their faith.
We, too, can contentedly imagine our justification if we don't face the discomfort of self-examination. The Pharisee is stuck in such a comfort zone, "convinced of his own self-righteousness" (v. 9) instead of relying on the mercy of God. He lacked the humility that leads us to acknowledge our own sinfulness — and thus our need for grace.
Oddly enough, this parable offers no real good guy or bad guy: just people in need of God's mercy. The catch was, only one asked for it.
Lord Jesus Christ, help me not to compare myself to others for my justification, but to humbly turn with trust to Your mercy. Amen.
2 Cor 10:12
Diary of St. Faustina
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