In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus addresses a parable “to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.” Do we know anyone like that? Have there been times when we’ve been someone like that?
I would like to focus on the prayer of the tax collector because these words can lead us to a consideration of our whole lives.
First, these words lead us to humility. The truth is that we are all sinners. No one can claim perfection or total righteousness before the Cross of Christ. We are sinners, and we need the love and mercy and grace of God in our lives!
Second, this prayer can lead us to gratitude. Acknowledging our sinfulness need not lead us to shame and despair! Instead, we can be grateful, because while we were still sinners, Jesus died for our sins on the Cross! Not only do we need God’s love and mercy and grace, God pours out these things for us time after time after time! As I often say, God is not just the God of the second chance, but of the fifth chance and the tenth chance and the hundredth chance! There’s no way we can pay back God for all God has done for us, but the remarkable thing is that God has done and continues to do all these things for us, simply out of love! All we can do is be grateful and respond, which leads us to the next two things.
If we acknowledge our sinfulness and our reliance on God, how can we look at anyone else with judgment and condemnation? It is true that we determine that some things are wrong and unjust, but we cannot presume to say that someone is out of the bounds of God’s love and mercy. The tax collector was not beyond God’s love. No one is beyond God’s love, even when they go against God’s will. They may suffer judgment in the next life, but that is God’s decision to make. There is nothing we can do to make God stop loving us, even though we may have made the choice to stop loving God. We are called to look on others with compassion, love and mercy, just as God looks on us.
And finally, the prayer of the tax collector can lead us to testimony. Probably the best testimony I can give to the Good News of Jesus Christ is to say: “God did this for me in Jesus Christ. I did not deserve it. I did not earn it. But God loves me, and I know God loves you;” and to treat my brothers and sisters, and indeed the whole planet, accordingly, so that others may not only hear the Good News but see signs of it in our lives.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.