(Luke 18:9-14) The Pharisee in today’s Gospel reminds me a lot of this picture of Homer Simpson. He looks into the mirror, and he likes what he sees. He has compared his life to other people, and he figures that he looks pretty good. What a relief that he isn’t like those guys who abandon their wives and children and run off with other women! Thank God that he doesn’t go around swindling little old ladies out of their life savings! And compared to that … tax collector … who is standing right beside him in the temple – well, we don’t even need to go there. The Pharisee’s life is so exemplary that you can almost hear him say, “Look at me! I fast twice a week and I give ten percent of my money to the poor.” What more could anyone ask?
The Pharisee is convinced that he is righteous – that he is “okay” in the eyes of God and the world – because of his good deeds. But there is one small problem. What other people think about us isn’t always correct, and at times we fool ourselves into believing we are someone we are not. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is who we are in the eyes of God. Others look on the outside, but He sees our heart (cf. 1 Sam 16:7). You can’t fool God.
A righteous person is someone who is virtuous, who acts in a moral and upright way. He prayerfully examines himself in the light of Christ in order to arrive at true self-knowledge. The self-righteous person, on the other hand, is someone who is so confident of his own virtue that he is often intolerant of the behaviour and opinions of other people. Self-righteous people compare themselves to others – and find reasons to justify their own sense of superiority. They set themselves up as judges, measuring their own worth (and that of others) as it appears to them, without any reference to God. They are just like the Pharisee in today’s parable. What a difference that little word “self” in self-righteous makes! Once we take God out of the picture, the person standing before the mirror no longer looks so attractive.
Humility is the foundation of true prayer. God does not love us because we are upright. He does not love us because of anything that we have done. He loves us because of who we are: His precious children, who have all gone astray and are in great need of His mercy. The tax collector understands this. He is so overwhelmed by the awareness of his sinfulness that he doesn’t even dare to lift his eyes to heaven. Instead, with head bowed, he begs God to have mercy on him. And because of his humility, he leaves justified.
– Sharon van der Sloot