Jesus told another parable to some people, 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 a 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 back to his house, he had been reconciled with God, but not the other. For whoever makes himself out to be great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be raised up.
In today’s gospel, Jesus uses a parable to teach us the proper attitude and stance in prayer. The parable presents to us two characters and their attitudes and ways of praying. There is a temptation to interpret this parable in a simplistic way, like neatly dividing humanity between the righteous, law-abiding people and the sinners. In reality, it’s not a matter of black or white; it is all grey because if we are honest with ourselves, we find both characters in us. We need some degree of self-awareness to be able to identify which character predominates at certain times in our life. The Pharisee’s prayer is full of himself, setting himself as the standard for virtues that must be emulated for having been diligent in following the Mosaic Law but not realizing that he was full of spiritual pride. This kind of attitude divides the community instead of unifying it; perpetuating prejudice and the separation between the “we” and the “they” which often happens in society and sometimes even in religious communities. We all should strive to pray like the Publican who was aware of being a sinner and nothing else before God, being totally dependent on God’s divine mercy.
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