Intention: For God’s wise and guiding grace in the lives of all who are being affected by COVID-19: those afflicted with the disease, family members or friends of those afflicted, caretakers of those afflicted, and persons who are entrusted with decisions of public health and safety.
Today’s Gospel | Luke 18:9-14
Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. 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.’ 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.”
A Lenten Reflection
A reoccurring theme within Gospel narratives is the problem of hypocrisy within the religious establishment of Jesus’ day. Jesus often confronts the Temple leadership about the injury that their spiritual and social corruption was doing to the community. The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector was his powerful indictment of them, but it also was meant as a lesson to all of the listeners about the relationship between humility and salvation.
In the story, as a Pharisee and a tax collector enter the Temple to worship, there is a marked difference between their attitudes. While the former’s is arrogant and entitled, the latter’s is unassuming and grateful. The Pharisee had chosen to interpret his affluence as a mark of blessing and holiness. He saw himself as set apart and above, justified and whole in God’s eyes, with no need either to repent or to change. Meanwhile, the tax collector held no illusions about his own brokenness and helplessness. His stance seems to suggest that he knew that he would never be able to rise past his own sinfulness and disconnection from his brothers and sisters without God, and so he kept returning in embarrassment to beg God not to give up on him. Essentially, the parable is suggesting that humility is a matter of honesty. The Pharisee had arrived where he was by denying and manipulating the truth about himself, whereas the tax collector had arrived where he was by accepting and surrendering to his.
The poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “A great man is always willing to be little.” Humility comes when we embrace the truth that all good things are gifts, and that our strengths and our accomplishments find their source in unmerited grace. Likewise, we are, in the face of our flaws and errors, offered redemption and the chance to make repairs. As St. Paul said, if we have any reason to boast, it is that we belong to a loving and caring God from whom all goodness comes. In this season of Lent, may we seek the greatness that is being part of God’s people and having the chance to build God’s Kingdom together.
Eternal Father, your son walked through a sinful world teaching humility and compassion. In this time of Lent, help us to put aside our selfishness and pride, our judgments and divisions, our fears and indifference. May renewed faith, hope, and love turn us back to you and to one another, so that we may share as one family in the salvation that your son has brought to all of us. We ask this of you who lives and reigns with your Son and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.