10th Sunday after Pentecost
In today’s Gospel, we hear the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went up to the temple to pray. A little historical background, the Pharisees were a very religious sect of the Jewish population. They lived very strict life style and often went to unnecessary extremes in trying to obey the law. In Jesus’ time, tax collectors were treated with disdain by the Jews and for the most part considered immoral men because they often overcharged them when they collected taxes for the Roman government.
Thinking himself high above the tax collector and not seeing any of his own short-comings, the arrogant Pharisee makes a self-serving prayer to God just to let Him know that he is so happy that he is so awesome and not a lowly tax collector. His prayer reeked of vanity and ego. On the other hand, the tax collector is so ashamed of his sinfulness, he bows his head, and begs God for his mercy. He humbles himself before God. Quite a contrast!
Many of us often act like the Pharisee in today’s Gospel. We think we can be justified-made righteous and innocent in God’s eyes-by doing good deeds. “Look I go to Mass every Sunday, I tithe my ten-percent, I do this and I do that, God. I am so awesome and so much better than him or her.” That was the Pharisee’s attitude; but Jesus points out that the tax collector who repented of his sins was the one who walked away justified by God.
How quickly we all recognize faults in others and how slowly we are to realize our own sinfulness.
There is an old teaching from Abbot St. Dorotheus entitled:
“The Reason for all Disturbance is that No One Finds Fault with Himself”
The Abbot poses the question-Why do sometimes we hear the criticism from others and act to better ourselves, while sometimes we just ignore it, and other times we are troubled by the words of others and even lash out at the one pointing out our short-comings?
A person more readily accepts a rebuke from someone he cares for and whom he feels cares for him. In these instances, with the understanding of the person’s good intentions, a person may actually have things pointed out to them and learn from another’s observation and correct his own behavior. It may not even come as a surprise when a person of good intention, one trying to live a holy life, lets us know we are not doing what is right and just.
On the other hand, if a person despises the one who is pointing out his flaws, he will be quick to rebuke his words in the most vile of ways, perhaps not even looking at him or answering him. He will not be moved to change himself in any way even if the person’s observations are justified. He may even lash out at the person in anger.
The Abbot points out that the source of annoyance and distress in our lives is mostly that we rarely find fault with ourselves or place the blame on number one where it belongs. In our laziness and our desire not to take ownership of the problems that arise in our lives, we are quick to be impatient with others as we continue down our imagined path of I can do no wrong. This is human nature.
It does not matter how many wonderful qualities and virtues a person may possess, if one has turned away from the path of self-accusation, one will never have peace. He will always be troubled blaming others as the source or his troubles and his labors will be futile.
In Jesus’ words, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself with be exalted.” Dear Lord, help us to be humble and admit that we are wrong-at least once in awhile!