The Lord is a God of justice, who knows no favorites. Though not unduly partial toward the weak, yet he hears the cry of the oppressed. The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan, nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint. The one who serves God willingly is heard; his petition reaches to the heavens. The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right, and the Lord will not delay.(P) The word of the Lord.
I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be ever in my mouth. Let my soul glory in the Lord; the lowly will hear and be glad. (R)
The Lord confronts the evildoers, to destroy remembrance of them from the earth. When the just cry out, the Lord hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them. (R)
The Lord is close to the broken hearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves. The Lord redeems the lives of his servants; no one incurs guilt who takes refuge in him. (R)
Beloved: I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.
At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.
"Two people went up to the Temple 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 whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
Once, there lived a funny but wise poor man in a village. Many people went to him for advice. Even the king sought his advice on important matters. One day the king heard the rumor that this man talked to God every day. This angered him and he ordered the man to be brought before him. The king asked the man angrily, "How could you hide such an important thing from me?" The man, while trying to recall which one of his countless misdeeds could have come to his king's knowledge, replied, "My king, I have hidden nothing from you and I have never lied to you. I have always told you as much as I know about anything." "Don't try to be smart. Is it true that you speak to God?" asked the king.
"Ah, yes, with God, the All Powerful! Blessed be his name! Yes, I do. I speak to Him every day", the man replied. "And... what does God say to you?" the king asked him. "Oh... Nothing... Nothing... unfortunately, God does not speak to me", said the man, smiling pleasantly. Feeling much relieved, the king let the man go free.
It will not surprise you if I say that I talk to God every day because many of you do as well. But if I say that God always speaks to me then, if not all of you, at least some of you may not believe me. If God speaks to people, why can't I hear God speaking to me, someone might ask? God does speak to all of us even though He does not speak in the same way. He speaks to us in many different ways. Today's gospel recounts the story of two men who went up to the temple to pray.
Jesus told many parables. Some were told to His disciples, others to the crowds that followed Him. Still others were directly addressed to the Pharisees and Sadducees. Today's parable was directed "to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else", Luke (18:9). The scriptures call those who in obedience, do the will of God and are pleasing to Him, as righteous. For instance, Abraham is described in the Book of Genesis (15:6) as someone who "put his faith in Yahweh and this was reckoned to be upright". Matthew (1:19) in his gospel writes that "Joseph, the husband of Mary was an upright man". The gospel of Luke (1:6) states that both Elizabeth and her husband Zachariah were "righteous before God, and strictly observed all of the commandments and observances of the Lord".
God is indeed pleased with those who pursue righteousness by keeping God's law and seeking holiness. So the people to whom Jesus addressed this parable were not bad people. They were determined to uphold the law of God. Unfortunately, as time went by, they became self-righteous. They saw themselves as holy, righteous, and favored by God and looked down on others. Seeing their self-righteousness and contempt for sinners, Jesus told them a parable involving exactly the two different kinds of people: a Pharisee and a tax collector.
According to the story both went to the temple to pray to God. The Pharisee bragged that he was not like the others who were "greedy, dishonest, adulterous" and especially not like the tax collector, and that he fasted twice a week and gave a tenth of his income to the synagogue. The tax collector, on the other hand, admitted to his sinfulness before God and men, and asked for forgiveness. Jesus ended the parable by saying that the tax collector returned home justified. That's to say, God had reconciled him to Himself and, His grace was with the tax collector as he returned home. He returned home forgiven. But the Pharisee left just as he had come, locked up in his own self-sufficiency and closed himself to the grace of God.
What are the lessons we can learn from this parable?
First of all, when we go to worship we must guard against being self-righteous, proud and contemptuous of others. We must not compare ourselves with others in order not to become boastful when we find ourselves better than others. Because when we see ourselves as better than others we tend to despise them, forgetting that we too are sinners, and are in need of God's forgiveness. Saint Paul writes that our standard for comparison is God Himself but we all fall short of His glory, Romans (3:23).
Secondly, we must remember that we do not go to worship God to feel good about ourselves or to impress Him. There is nothing you and I can do to impress God. We go to worship God only to acknowledge our sinfulness before Him and to seek the only thing that can bridge the gap between God and us - God's mercy and forgiveness. Our good works alone are insufficient to gain us salvation and eternal life. We need the grace of God which is given to those who seek His mercy and forgiveness for their sins. Even though we deserve to be punished for our sins, God is merciful and has allowed Jesus to pay for our sins.
Thirdly, we must worship God with the right disposition so that we shall not leave God's presence the same way we came into it. We, rather like the tax collector, shall leave justified, transformed and at peace.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!