I noticed something new when we heard the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus tells of the proud Pharisee going to the Temple to pray at the same time as the tax collector. The tax collector stays at the back, not daring to raise his eyes to Heaven, begging God to have mercy on him.
But what I saw for the first time the other week was how Jesus phrases his description of the Pharisee’s prayer.
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.” (Luke 18:11-12)
What stuck out for me was that the Pharisee spoke the prayer to himself. Not to God. To himself. The prayer he spoke probably sounded good to him, and that was what was important. He was doing all of the outer demonstrations of faith, but it wasn’t for love of God any more. It had become a source of pride to him.
How often are my own prayers this way? Just as I’ve discovered I’m not in the 99 sheep and I’m not the older brother to the parable son, I’m also not the tax collector in the Temple. Far too often I’ve prayed with flowery language, but have I sought to change my heart? Have I tried to conform myself to Jesus, to imitate His Sacred Heart? To imitate His Blessed Mother?
Real humility isn’t necessarily about putting yourself down, and that’s not what the tax collector does. He simply acknowledges his sins and asks God to forgive him, knowing that he’s not worthy of that forgiveness (is anyone?), but living with real hope that it can be his.
This is what Confession is all about. We go to the Lord with the prayer of the tax collector on our lips – “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner” – with the real hope that we will receive forgiveness, grace, and healing at the hands of our Savior.
Make plans to return to Confession. Don’t be afraid to approach the Lord. He waits for you, ready to welcome you back to his fold.
Copyright 2019 Christine Johnson