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.”
About the parable in today’s gospel reading, one striking characteristic about the Pharisee presented by Jesus is that, on the surface of things, he does not lie or exaggerate the truth. He says of himself that he is not grasping, crooked and adulterous—which is probably true. He specifies that he is not a shameless exploiter of the people like the tax collector is. And it is furthermore true that he fasts twice a week and gives a tenth of all his income to the temple. All this is perfectly true and certainly admirable in itself. In other words, he is a truly righteous person. So what is the problem?
The problem is that he is unaware that his righteousness is wholly the grace of God working in him. As the gospel text says, he is one of those people “fully convinced of their own righteousness.” And, because he refuses to acknowledge that everything in his orderly life is the work of grace, he believes he can look down on other, less virtuous men, and condemn them. Being unaware that his virtue is pure grace, he does not seek reconciliation with God—though he is a great sinner because of his Luciferian pride. In practice he says to God, “I do not need you.”
Do we sometimes think like that?
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